Two Penn professors call attention to the use of race in human genetic research

Two University of Pennsylvania professors are coauthors, along with two other scholars, on a perspective piece published this week in the journal Science that calls for an end to the use of genetic concepts of race in biological research. “We believe the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research, so disputed and so mired in confusion, is problematic at best and harmful at worst. It is time for biologists to find a better way,” the researchers wrote.

Dorothy Roberts, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with appointments in the School of Law and in the School of Arts Sciences’ departments of Africana Studies and Sociology, and Sarah Tishkoff, a PIK Professor with appointments in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and in Arts Sciences’ Biology Department, were coauthors on the publication.

Roberts, the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law Sociology, is a scholar of race, gender and the law and also holds the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander chair in the Law School. Tishkoff is an expert on human genetics, with a particular focus on African populations, and is also Penn’s David and Lyn Silfen University Professor in Genetics and Biology.

Their coauthors on the piece are Michael Yudell of Drexel University’s School of Public Health and Rob DeSalle of the American Museum of Natural History.

Their article noted that countless studies have failed to uphold a biological basis of race. Researchers would be better served, they wrote, using terms and concepts like “ancestry” and “population” in describing human groups in genetic studies. The authors also advised the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to convene a panel of experts across disciplines to “improve the scientific study of human difference and commonality” by seeking ways to “move past the use of race as a tool for classification in both laboratory and clinical research.”

In publishing this call to action in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, Roberts, Tishkoff and their coauthors hope to both “strengthen scientific research by thinking more carefully about human genetic diversity and to responsibly engage in a century long dialogue about the role of race and its impact on biology and society.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania

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