Policy ForumGenomics

Advancing the ethics of paleogenomics

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Science  27 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 384-385
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1131

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Summary

Recent scientific developments have drawn renewed attention to the complex relationships among Indigenous peoples, the scientific community, settler colonial governments, and ancient human remains (1, 2). Increasingly, DNA testing of ancestral remains uncovered in the America s is being used in disputes over these remains (3). However, articulations of ethical principles and practices in paleogenomics have not kept pace (4), even as results of these studies can have negative consequences, undermining or complicating community claims in treaty, repatriation, territorial, or other legal cases. Paleogenomic narratives may also misconstrue or contradict community histories, potentially harming community or individual identities. Paleogenomic data can reveal information about descendant communities that may be stigmatizing, such as genetic susceptibilities to disease. Given the potential consequences for Indigenous communities, it is critical that paleogenomic researchers consider their ethical obligations more carefully than in the past.