Our approach indicates that on average, one in every two humans carries a recessive lethal allele on the autosomes that lead to lethality after birth and before reproductive age or to complete sterility.
An estimate of the average number of recessive lethal mutations carried by humans
Ziyue Gao, Darrel Waggoner, Matthew Stephens, Carole Ober, Molly Przeworski
The effects of inbreeding on human health depend critically on the number and severity of recessive, deleterious mutations carried by individuals. In humans, existing estimates of these quantities are based on comparisons between consanguineous and non-consanguineous couples, an approach that confounds socioeconomic and genetic effects of inbreeding. To circumvent this limitation, we focused on a founder population with almost complete Mendelian disease ascertainment and a known pedigree. By considering all recessive lethal diseases reported in the pedigree and simulating allele transmissions, we estimated that each haploid set of human autosomes carries on average 0.29 (95% credible interval [0.10, 0.83]) autosomal, recessive alleles that lead to complete sterility or severe disorders at birth or before reproductive age when homozygous. Comparison to existing estimates of the deleterious effects of all recessive alleles suggests that a substantial fraction of the burden of autosomal, recessive variants is due to single mutations that lead to death between birth and reproductive age. In turn, the comparison to estimates from other eukaryotes points to a surprising constancy of the average number of recessive lethal mutations across organisms with markedly different genome sizes.