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December 15, 2006

DNA Gatherers Hit Snag: Tribes Don’t Trust Them - New York Times

Here's an interesting article from the New York Times:

The National Geographic Society’s multimillion-dollar research project to collect DNA from indigenous groups around the world in the hopes of reconstructing humanity’s ancient migrations has come to a standstill on its home turf in North America.

Billed as the “moon shot of anthropology,” the Genographic Project intends to collect 100,000 indigenous DNA samples. But for four months, the project has been on hold here as it scrambles to address questions raised by a group that oversees research involving Alaska natives.

At issue is whether scientists who need DNA from aboriginal populations to fashion a window on the past are underselling the risks to present-day donors. Geographic origin stories told by DNA can clash with long-held beliefs, threatening a world view some indigenous leaders see as vital to preserving their culture.

I find this sort of thing very frustrating. As I mentioned before, I'm currently reading Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies". In it, he discusses the spread of modern humans across the planet, focusing on the last 13,000 years. What becomes apparent is that we're all one group of people. (Duh!) Yes, our more recent history might vary widely, but we all started out as one group, and not all that long ago. Yet some people seem to continue to cling to the belief that their ancestors apparently sprang fully formed from the ground. For example:

Some American Indians trace their suspicions to the experience of the Havasupai Tribe, whose members gave DNA for a diabetes study that University of Arizona researchers later used to link the tribe’s ancestors to Asia. To tribe members raised to believe the Grand Canyon is humanity’s birthplace, the suggestion that their own DNA says otherwise was deeply disturbing.


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December 15, 2006 in Science and Technology | Permalink


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