Research on ancient DNA relies on the availability of rare bone specimens from archaeological excavations. We consider that access to and research on these specimens should be more ethical and stringently regulated.
DNA is exceptionally well preserved in the petrous bone of the inner ear (R. Pinhasi et al. PLoS ONE 10, e0129102; 2015). Competition for these rare specimens promotes hoarding, which, along with the destruction of samples for DNA analysis, makes it hard to replicate findings. It also hinders research by scientists who are not connected to the few groups who dominate access to such samples.
Moreover, these specimens are usually exported to a few centres in Europe and the United States from countries that are not supported by costly laboratory infrastructure. This impoverishes those countries' cultural heritage through loss of scarce genetic material from local and sometimes extinct populations.
Organizations concerned with the ethics and regulation of cultural heritage and of past biological diversity need to remedy this. Ethics standards should be backed by regulations following the Nagoya Protocol (www.cbd.int/abs). A central facility to extract ancient DNA from petrous bones and to curate and store at least half of the material for replicability and accessibility purposes was recently set up in Israel (see go.nature.com/2ujxatj).
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Makarewicz, C., Marom, N. & Bar-Oz, G. Ensure equal access to ancient DNA. Nature 548, 158 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/548158a
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