In the blood: the myth and reality of genetic markers of identity

Mark A. Jobling*, Rita Rasteiro, Jon H. Wetton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The differences between copies of the human genome are very small, but tend to cluster in different populations. So, despite the fact that low inter-population differentiation does not support a biological definition of races statistical methods are nonetheless claimed to be able to predict successfully the population of origin of a DNA sample. Such methods are employed in commercial genetic ancestry tests, and particular genetic signatures, often in the male-specific Y-chromosome or maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA, have become widely identified with particular ancestral or existing groups, such as Vikings, Jews, or Zulus. Here, we provide a primer on genetics, and describe how genetic markers have become associated with particular groups. We describe the conflict between population genetics and individual-based genetics and the pitfalls of over-simplistic genetic interpretations, arguing that although the tests themselves are reliable, the interpretations are unreliable and strongly influenced by cultural and other social forces.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-161
Number of pages20
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Volume39
Issue number2
Early online date14 Dec 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016

Keywords

  • genetic ancestry testing
  • Genetics
  • indigeneity
  • migration
  • recreational genomics
  • reification of race

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