In my culture, it is very common for us to marry first cousins, and most of my Uncles and Aunts did. Can this cause birth defects?

The problem is that close family marriages, such as those between first cousins, can mean an increased risk of genetic abnormalities in the children of that marriage. This is because each of us carries millions of genes within our DNA; some of these genes are defective. Luckily, these defective genes usually don''t cause a problem, because each of us has two sets of chromosomes, which contain all the genetic information embedded within the DNA. So if one set is faulty, the good set makes up for it. If you have children with someone unrelated to you, you and they will have some defective genes but it is very unlikely that they will co-incide as the same ones, purely because of statistical likelihood. If, instead, you have a baby with someone who has similar genetic information to yours (for example a first cousin), there is a higher chance of both sets of that baby''s chromosomes being faulty, leading to some sort of genetic condition. This is because this baby will not have a ''normal'' gene in one set of chromosomes to make up for the abnormal gene in the other as would be the case if the baby inherited one set of completely different chromosomes.
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