Researchers can track human evolution and make crucial findings about modern populations by analyzing ancient DNA. The data disclosed by ancient DNA samples can be helpful, however, the human remains that store this ancient DNA are frequently those of present Indigenous groups’ ancestors, and some communities have raised concerns about the ethics of outside sampling.
A group of researchers argues for the inclusion of descendant communities in all stages of the research process in a study published on January 11th, 2023, in the journal Human Genetics and Genomics Advances.
The researchers guided by Emma Kowal, an Anthropologist at Deakin University states, “Allowing descendant communities to guide ancient DNA research is critical because most risks and benefits resulting from research on their Ancestors are realized by descendant communities—not researchers. Without this guidance from descendant communities, ancient DNA research can be an extractive and exploitative science that propagates the consequences of colonial practices.”
Despite practical challenges, the authors recommend intensive interaction with existing groups.
“Communities should be equal partners with scientists in the research process. It is true that identifying which communities should be recognized as research partners can be challenging, even in countries such as the United States where there is longstanding recognition of hundreds of tribes. However, these challenges are not a reason to exclude groups that may have rights and interests in ancient DNA research,” added the authors.
The researchers note in their peer-reviewed commentary that the capability to comply with tight guidelines for community involvement should be considered when deciding whether to proceed with research. “If a research team does not have the capacity to meaningfully engage descendent communities, questions must be asked about the value and benefit of their research,” they commented.
Kowal, E., et al. (2023) Community partnerships are fundamental to ethical ancient DNA research. Human Genetics and Genomics Advances. doi.org/10.1016/j.xhgg.2022.100161.