Medicine: The Joseph Illness

Antone Joseph liked California better than the Azores, and so he jumped ship in San Francisco. That was back in 1845. Joseph brought with him a rare form of degenerative nerve disease. He died of it in his 40s, but before he died he fathered six children. His legacy to them has proved lethal. In the 130 years since Joseph entered the U.S., at least 48 of his 300 or so descendants have died of this fatal family malady.

The phenomenon of genetic disease is not new. Researchers have identified some 2,000 hereditary ailments that can be passed from parent to child...

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