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Ancient Genome Stirs Ethics Debate

Publication Date: 
February 13, 2014
Source: 
Nature
Author: 
Ewen Callaway

Professor Hank Greely spoke with Nature's Ewen Callaway on the ethical issues associated with human genetics following the recovery of ancient remains in Montana. 

The remains of a young boy, ceremonially buried some 12,600 years ago in Montana, have revealed the ancestry of one of the earliest populations in the Americas, known as the Clovis culture.

Published in this issue of Nature, the boy’s genome sequence shows that today’s indigenous groups spanning North and South America are all descended from a single population that trekked across the Bering land bridge from Asia (M. Rasmussen et al. Nature 506, 225–229; 2014). The analysis also points to an early split between the ancestors of the Clovis people and a second group, whose DNA lives on in populations in Canada and Greenland (see page 162).

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Hank Greely, a legal scholar at Stanford University in California who is interested in the legal and ethical issues of human genetics, commends the approach of Willerslev’s team. But he says that there is no single solution to involving Native American communities in such research. “You’re looking to try to talk to the people who might be most invested in, or connected with, particular sets of remains,” he advises.