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Why scholars have created global guidelines for ancient DNA research

Ancient DNA contains a lot of valuable information, but it needs to be ethically investigated.Credit: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Field Ancient DNA It has grown rapidly in recent years, mainly due to technological advances. This task involves sampling human bodies from long ago and analyzing DNA to understand the history, origin, and evolution of humans and populations.


Like everyone else Scientific research, There is Ethical question Navigate Some are fairly modern concerns. DNA contains all our genetic and biological information. If unregulated, these data could be misused for medical and scientific research by anyone, including but not limited to scientists, governments, and major pharmaceutical companies. Other ethical concerns are rooted in history. For centuries, scientists have tested and obtained data on African people as if they were just mere. Specimen, object and subject.. These attitudes persist..

Therefore, these are important questions for those engaged in ancient DNA research. How can the African genome (and genomes from elsewhere, especially from other parts of the north and south) be protected while the researcher is contributing? Understanding human stories and human history?? What is the most ethical way to do this study? For example, how do scientists proceed to get consent from the community or family where the bodies of their ancestors are being tested? What should they do if it is not clear whether humans are descendants or communities? And, decisively, how can we protect the ancient DNA of the African continent?

This last question is important because of the origin of mankind and the deep historical roots of Africa. African DNA Found in all humans. Studying ancient DNA in Africa is valuable for a regional, regional, and global understanding of human evolution, migration, and human history.

These ethical issues have led to a diverse set of 64 scholars from 24 countries, including myself, who are actively involved in ancient DNA research and a set of ethical guidelines in this area. Is being created.These are ours New article In the journal Nature..

The proper approach to dealing with human ancient DNA depends on the circumstances of the world. As a result, a large number of experts from different regions and countries have come together to develop these guidelines. They are not so detailed that they cannot fit into a particular context, but they are specific enough to provide a certain level of protection. Countries include Germany, India, Mexico and the United States. Researchers from Sudan, Kenya and South Africa from the African Continent provided ideas and suggestions.

5 guidelines

My colleagues and I believe that the set of guidelines we have created is powerful and universally applicable. We promised to apply them to our own work.

The guidelines require researchers to:

  • Observe all regulations where they work and where humans remain
  • Prepare a detailed plan before starting the study
  • Minimize damage Human corpse
  • Ensuring that data will be available after publication to allow a critical review of scientific discoveries
  • Engage with other stakeholders and respect and be sensitive to their perspectives.

Our hope is to ensure that these guidelines ensure that ancient DNA research is always conducted in accordance with the highest ethical standards. It was also designed to address the problems of parachute research.

This refers to the plunge of scientists in wealthy countries into those under development, collecting samples and data, and returning home to analyze them. Coordination with local researchers, scientists and community groups in the country of origin of the sample is inadequate or rare. Ultimately, the resulting research benefits primarily to the people of the north and south. Historically this has been well documented and these ideas of testing Africans are still prevalent today. With the rise of ancient DNA research, there is a risk of parachute research.

Starting point

My contribution to the subject continues from paper In 2020, I explained the strong rules and regulations for DNA research on living things. I emphasized the gap between South African heritage law and ancient DNA research and argued that they should be reflected in each other. DNA provides a lot of information about both, alive or dead. The impact on this study is widespread.

In my own research, I understand that the guidelines we have created need to improve the communication structure, respect the consultation process of the local community, and return regular feedback and results to the community group in a concrete way. I hope it will be done.

The guidelines capture the value of transparency and open access data, involvement, respect, dignity and sensitivity, which should be central to ancient DNA research.

We hope that these principles will provide a starting point for African countries to improve consultations, prevent or mitigate parachute research, and develop strong local legislation enshrining ethical ancient DNA research. It is important to hold all ancient DNA researchers accountable. Researchers in African countries need to be as careful and responsible for the genetic material of the continent as researchers in wealthy countries need to avoid conducting parachute studies.

This paper has been translated into more than 20 languages, including Swahili, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Arabic, French, German and Portuguese, for wide access to the guidelines.


Proceed with caution: The first global guidelines proposed for ancient DNA research


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Why scholars have created global guidelines for ancient DNA research

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