Extreme inbreeding in a European ancestry sample from the contemporary UK population

In most human societies, there are taboos and laws banning mating between first- and second-degree relatives, but actual prevalence and effects on health and fitness are poorly quantified. Here, we leverage a large observational study of ~450,000 participants of European ancestry from the UK Biobank (UKB) to quantify extreme inbreeding (EI) and its consequences. We use genotyped SNPs to detect large runs of homozygosity (ROH) and call EI when >10% of an individual’s genome comprise ROHs. We estimate a prevalence of EI of ~0.03%, i.e. ~1/3652. EI cases have phenotypic means between 0.3 and 0.7 standard deviation below the population mean for 7 traits, including stature and cognitive ability, consistent with inbreeding depression estimated from individuals with low levels of inbreeding. Our study provides DNA-based quantification of the prevalence of EI in a European ancestry sample from the UK and measures its effects on health and fitness traits.