Ancient DNA researchers set ethical guidelines for their work

Ancient DNA researchers set ethical guidelines for their work


According to Kendra Sirak, a paleogeneticist at Harvard Medical School and one of the authors, the authors of the new paper made a conscious choice to only invite active practitioners of the old DNA research. They also emphasize that these guidelines come from a specific group of scholars in the ancient DNA community.

“We found that there was a lack of testimony in this area from a group of practitioners around the world, so we wanted to contribute here,” said Dr. Sirak, who works in the laboratory of David Reich, one of the leading experts on ancient DNA.

The new paper is not the first published set of ethical guidelines on the subject. In 2018, a group of North American-based scientists published guidelines for researching ancient DNA – the first recommendations approved by a professional organization, the American Society of Human Genetics.

However, concerns arose during the virtual workshop that the guidelines in this paper could not be expanded globally, according to the authors. “Our laboratory is global and we have heard from many of our employees that these guidelines are good stepping stones, but not universally applicable,” said Jakob Sedig, Postdoc in Dr. Reich’s laboratory.

The task of creating globally applicable guidelines for researching ancient DNA is daunting because the historical and cultural context and regulations vary widely around the world, the authors note in the new paper. In the United States and Hawaii, where tribal peoples have historically been displaced by white settlers, “centering the indigenous perspective is critical,” said Nathan Nakatsuka, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and author of the paper. Elsewhere in the world, the authors believe that consultation with communities that live near a location or have a commitment to a location is not always useful.

The fourth recommendation of the new paper, to make data available after publication in order to check the scientific evidence, caused much discussion. The guidelines describe full disclosure of data as best practice, but would only require other researchers to confirm the accuracy of the original study.

Many authors advocated fully open data, said Dr. Sirak; Restricted data access could steer the availability of such data to larger, well-funded laboratories, they argued. “But we’ve seen cases where we could potentially justify restricting the data if there were concerns,” said Dr. Sirak.



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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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