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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-161
Number of pages20
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number2
Early online date14 Dec 2015
DateAccepted/In press - 5 Oct 2015
DateE-pub ahead of print - 14 Dec 2015
DatePublished (current) - 2 Jan 2016


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.

    Research areas

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


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