Genetics for the human race
Knowledge from the Human Genome Project and research on human genome variation increasingly challenges the applicability of the term 'race' to human population groups, raising questions about the validity of inferences made about 'race' in the biomedical and scientific literature. Despite the acknowledged contradictions in contemporary science, population-based genetic variation is continually used to explain differences in health between 'racial' and 'ethnic' groups. In this commentary we posit that resolution of apparent paradoxes in relating biology to 'race' and genetics requires thinking 'outside of the box'.
Data on human genetic variation help scientists to understand human origins, susceptibility to illness and genetic causes of disease. Destructive episodes in the history of genetic research make it crucial to consider the ethical and social implications of research in genomics, especially human genetic variation. The analysis of ethical, legal and social implications should be integrated into genetic research, with the participation of scientists who can anticipate and monitor the full range of possible applications of the research from the earliest stages. The design and implementation of research directs the ways in which its results can be used, and data and technology, rather than ethical considerations or social needs, drive the use of science in unintended ways. Here we examine forensic genetics and argue that all geneticists should anticipate the ethical and social issues associated with nonmedical applications of genetic variation research.
What we do and don't know about 'race', 'ethnicity', genetics and health at the dawn of the genome era
A true understanding of disease risk requires a thorough examination of root causes. 'Race' and 'ethnicity' are poorly defined terms that serve as flawed surrogates for multiple environmental and genetic factors in disease causation, including ancestral geographic origins, socioeconomic status, education and access to health care. Research must move beyond these weak and imperfect proxy relationships to define the more proximate factors that influence health.