Round-up May 29th – July 22nd

In addition to various news sites (GenomeWeb, STAT) and newsletters (e.g. GA4GH) I usually use Rxvist to see what’s new. They show which pre-prints have been generating the most tweets. Except this month, that functionality is broken, so they’re showing the most downloaded articles instead — many of which were not published recently. The top hits in genetics/genomics include face prediction, tutorial for how to construct polygenic scores, ancestry, the effects of an extra X, and single-cell methods.

The stories that have been grabbing my attention are those that link genetics and identity. An excellent interview  interview with Dorothy Roberts, author of  Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century, discussed the relationship between genetic ancestry and race. Some selected excerpts

  • “Some people think it’s harmless to believe in biological differences between races as long as we don’t value one over another, but the whole point of dividing humans into races is to value some more than others.” 
  • “Racism isn’t a product of race. Race is a product of racism. People think it’s OK to categorize people by race as long as they’re not racist, but any division of people into supposedly natural races promotes a racist agenda, whether we intend it to or not.” 
  • On the eugenics movement: “If certain groups of people are at a disadvantage, the thinking went, it must be because of their biological inferiority, not due to state violence and structural inequalities…. Such thinking is still used to explain social inequality in the present: If we believe biology produces these unequal social and economic conditions, then how can they be immoral and in need of change? They are “natural.” The situation can’t be changed.” 
  • On where you look for explanations: “Have you looked into the fact that black children get expelled and arrested at far higher rates than white children for the same behaviors, like missing school, talking back to a teacher, or roughhousing? Have you looked for any explanations other than within the gray matter of their brains?”” 
  • “If you add a new technology to an already racist system, you’ll get another racist product.” 
  • And her conclusion: “I don’t believe we should be “color-blind,” that we shouldn’t pay any attention to race. As a political invention, race continues to determine power arrangements and is not going to just go away. We have to dismantle racist institutions to affirm our common humanity. And to do that, we need to understand how the concept of race really functions.” 

An interesting study on what happens when white nationalists find out some of their ancestry is not European. A study looked at the responses individuals in a white nationalist group got when they posted their unexpected results — the vast majority of comments they received focused on potential inaccuracies of the testing. The authors conclude: “White nationalism is not simply an identity community or political movement but should be understood as bricoleurs with genetic knowledge displaying aspects of citizen science.”

Genetic identity is key to the debates over donor conception. In the news recently have been reveals of prior mix-ups in sperm donor conception based on genetic testing. One couple whose children were conceived with a donor they didn’t select is revealing of attitudes within the process: ““I didn’t choose someone who has a history of brain cancer in the family. I would never have chosen this donor. They should be ashamed to even have this donor on the website.”” The position of the courts is that there are no grounds to sue if the child is healthy. Meanwhile a Singaporean court defined a new type of loss, a loss of genetic affinity, to deal with a case of a couple who unintentionally ended up with a bi-racial child.



Regulation etc

An interview with George Church touching on many future tech possibilities: “Just being different at all from the middle of the bell curve gives you an advantage in a part of society that cherishes innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.”