Policy ForumSCIENCE AND SOCIETY

Taking race out of human genetics

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Science  05 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6273, pp. 564-565
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4951

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  • RE: An Alternative to the Concept of Race

    I congratulate Yuddel and colleagues (Yuddell et. al. 2016) for their timely commentary, questioning the utility of race in biology and medicine, as well as their call to adopt a paradigm shift in our thinking on the utility of the race concept in contemporary human societies. Continued research on human diversity, using a battery of molecular markers, ranging from protein markers to sequencing, has repeatedly shown that much of human diversity for any quantitative trait is distributed among individuals. In humans, among population level variation often reduces to negligible levels, due to their diverse mating systems, and evolutionary history of each of the component population(s). The Presidential mandate for precision medicine, also emphasizes the need for focusing on specific individuals and families. Individuals and families harbor the highest degree of genetic information on ancestry and proximal identity of alleles by descent. Furthermore, the most useful measure of a population - the effective population size - in humans hovers around 10,000, and twice the effective population size is a useful measure to quantify response to selection (Robertson 1960). Accordingly, a redirected focus on individual, family and local (ecological) population composed of about 20-25000 is perhaps a more useful way to define a “genetic population,” on the basis of close genetic ancestries, and identities, rather than the defunct “race” concept, as the latter involves continental and...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Taking race out of human genetics

    This discussion goes way beyond medical research. Several years ago I posited that we need a new identity system in the US and the world for all purposes (legal, research, psychological, political, etc.), a tripartite identity system which I have detailed here: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=754352864637382&id=380724405... The gist of this is to include paternal and maternal genetic ancestry, cultural choice, and nationality in the categorization. I don't think ignoring the genetic components of identity is the answer any more than simply eliminating the 'n' or 'k' or 'd' or 'm' or 'c' or 's' or 'w' words from the vocabulary does away with bias.

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: same is true for "species".

    This is not restricted to race. Same is valid for the term "species", which is equally arbitrary based on modern genetics.

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Yudell et al

    Yudell et al. (Science 352:564) correctly point out that “the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research … is problematic at best and harmful at worst.” It is clear that common concepts of “race” have been misused in ways that can create real harm, and do not accurately reflect genetic ancestry. The genetic background is far better served by SNP-derived ancestry. I fully agree with their proposal to substitute “ancestry” or “population” or perhaps “ethnicity” for the inaccurate and misused term “race.” It should be kept in mind, however, that self-described ethnicity may carry relevant sociological and environmental information not captured by genetic ancestry, yet potentially relevant to many complex diseases.

    Competing Interests: None declared.