November 29, 2009

Kári Stefánsson
deCODE genetics
Sturlugata 8
IS-101 Reykjavik

Dear Dr. Stefánsson:

I shall be posting most of this letter on my website  I am enclosing a DVD, which I shall mention again.  I read that deCODE is having troubles, and I enclose a check for $1,000 dollars made out to you.  You can sign it over to deCODE as a contribution or use it for whatever else seems proper to you.  If there is any difficulty in cashing the check, return it and I will be happy to send an equal amount in the form of a draft for Icelandic currency.  I thought this would be quicker, and times are hard.  I am not including this first paragraph on the web site.  The world does not need to know. 

The open part of the letter starts here:

It has been more than a year since the article came out relating kinship with fertility.  Your team in Iceland reported a strong relationship between kinship as established by genealogy data and the fertility of a couple.  For some years now I have been interested in the relationship between mating pool size and fertility.  The relationship is very strong.  The penalty in fertility for failing to mate within a rather tight circle of kin depresses reproduction to below replacement levels.  Infertility has gone below replacement levels in more than half the countries of the world according to an article from the ECONOMIST.  We are looking at the world approaching panic over a situation that now seems to have an easy possible cure.  Your article points the way.

I would have thought the importance of your article would have attracted universal attention.  Time is short, but there may be time to change things.  What I proposed is this.  Calibrate kinship against consanguinity as determined by comparing DNA tests.  This would not require analyzing whole genomes, but it would require sensitivity out to about 5th cousins.  With modern technique that should be reasonably cheap. 

Then all in the world you need to do is have deCODE announce, “Send us your cheek swabs and $1,000 and we will tell you how many children you are likely to have.”  The market is there.  I understand that Denmark is willing to pay the cost of medically assisted fertility for any Danish couple who want and need it.  DNA matching would be far cheaper.  It promises more than a single child.  It avoids all unknown downstream risks of assisted fertility.  And it’s safe in the short run (to the degree that having children is ever safe).  I don’t know how many couples marry each year in Denmark.  Call it 30,000.  Not everyone getting married is going to want children.  But a lot of them do, and it would take a lot of them more than one try before they found the right match.  So there alone is a potential market going begging.  Multiply that by 5 if you want to consider the United States.  Multiply it by half the nations in the world if you like big numbers. 

The study comparing marital radius and fertility that came out of Denmark suggests that pretty much people there are having as many children as they can have.  It also suggests that, even in this day and age, inbreeding depression still exists.  Your DNA match would cover that risk as well.

The enclosed DVD goes over some of the evidence I have put together over the years in relating population size and fertility.  As you will see, it is anything but a self mending problem.  My computer model assumes that chromosomes are fine tuned to each other.  This may be the fact and may be what is causing the infertility of non kinship.  However I have learned that it is possible to inject a sperm directly into an egg.  In this case one may achieve fertility even when the sperm would not be able to enter the egg in the usual fashion.  It may be that there is some sort of a way the egg rejects suitor sperm that are not well matched.  There would be two reasons for doing so that may have been produced by evolution.  On the one hand doing so may prevent pregnancies being established that have no chance of becoming a fertile offspring.  This would spare the risk and nutritional investment of a failed pregnancy.  Thus sperm injection may be bypassing a safety lock.  That could be bad.  On the other hand, the rejection by the egg of non kin sperm may be a device to ensure the possibility of further evolution by accelerating speciation.  Since as humans we do not look to evolution but to technology for our progress, the consequences would not be so dire of having a population dependent on sperm injection.  But there would be no way to know for a generation or two. 

I hope you will take an interest in this subject.  The chance to do a lot of good in the world seems to be unprecedented.  At the very least, we could do a paper on it, proposing a genetic basis for the relationship you have already proved.  Of course by now I have given you enough so you don’t really need me any longer.  But if there is anything else I can do to help, please let me know.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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