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Sleeping with his aunt, like Jon Snow with Daenerys, is that really a problem?

The followers of Game Of Thrones knew that by indulging in fooling around with Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow was unknowingly sleeping with his aunt. Jon himself discovered his family heritage during the first episode of the eighth and final season, which no doubt means that, somewhere off-screen, buried in his furs and looking lost, he too got it who his new darling really was. Everyone knows that Westeros is a world where twins were able to procreate without genetic repercussions, but for an aunt-nephew couple, it can be serious, doctor?

From a scientific point of view, two people sharing the same genetic material run the risk, by reproducing, of increasing the probability that their offspring will inherit two genes carrying an anomaly and consequently either or become sick, writes geneticist Tiong Tan on The Conversation: “For a lot of genes, our body can get by with only one that works on both, but when both genes carry an abnormality, the person has a autosomal recessive disease» like the sickle cell disease or the cystic fibrosis.

Cousin pairs are found in many societies throughout history, including our own time—both Einstein and Darwin married their cousin. And if the risk of genetic problem double, wholesale, the absolute risk remains very low (somewhere between 4 and 7%), which means that the vast majority of babies resulting from such unions will be healthy. After assessing these risks, the Popular Science site proclaims: “It’s okay, you can marry your cousin”.

What the law says?

If cousin marriage isn’t technically too much of a problem, how much does the risk increase with greater genetic proximity? As Tiong Tan explains, if first cousins ​​have only one eighth of common genetic inheritance, parents and their children share half of their genes and an aunt and her nephew, a quarter. A 1971 study shows that there are four times more genetic risks when a parent reproduces with his child than when it occurs between cousins, because the inbreeding coefficient (measurement genetic distance) of the child is 25% against 6.25% respectively. Extrapolating from this, a baby whose parents are aunt and nephew would have an inbreeding coefficient of 12.5%, which means the double of genetic risk compared to a child fathered by first cousins. Not great. (Another big lesson to be learned: do not seek “aunt incest” at work. We come across porn.)

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In modern society, what is even more problematic than the risk of disease (present in many cases where the parents are not related) or the not insignificant taboo (we have gone back on a certain number of sexual practices and of associations between people that were once taboo), these are the interpersonal realities. In 2014, a New York court has authorized a marriage between an uncle and his niece (New York is one of twenty US states that allow cousin marriage), based in particular on the fact that the uncle in question was only the bride’s mother’s half-brother. But as one judge pointed out, incest laws don’t just serve to reduce the risk of genetic diseases—they also exist because of the deep power imbalance that can arise between members of the same family. very different ages.

Even with cousins ​​closer in age, the logistics are tricky. In the mail from the podcast readers Dear Prudence of, which he hosts, Daniel Ortberg once warned a man who wanted to sleep with his first cousin: what will happen if things don’t work out between you and you have to see each other at every family reunion? Emily Yoffe, who wrote the column before him, had given the opposite advice in another case – at the time, when cousin’s dilemma there was a small additional complication since the two partners were unaware of their relationship. The columnist had advised the author of the letter, the secret biological father of one of the two young people following an extra-marital affair, to say nothing and to let the couple live their lives.

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Jon and Dany are in different circumstances, of course. The Targaryens aren’t really the type to get together for the holidays. Dany cannot father a (human) child. Still, their relationship could pose a problem if news of Jon Snow’s parentage spreads more widely – it’s clear that in Westeros, some forms of incest remain taboo.

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