CCMB scientist on panel on ethical norms for DNA research

‘Focus on indigeneity can lead to divisiveness and conflict’

October 22, 2021 11:51 pm | Updated 11:51 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Chief scientist from the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and director of the DBT-Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics Dr. K. Thangaraj has joined a diverse set of 64 scholars from 31 countries actively involved in ‘ancient DNA’ research to come out with a set of ethical guidelines in an effort to circumvent differences across the world.

These are: Abide by all regulations in places where they work and from which the human remains originate (since there cannot be one set of regulations for all), prepare a detailed plan prior to beginning any study, minimise damage to human remains, ensure data are made available following publication to allow critical re-examination of scientific findings, and engage with other (non-scientist) stakeholders and ensure respect and sensitivity to stakeholder perspectives.

The guidelines have been published in the science journal ‘Nature’ (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-04008-x).

Other Indian co-authors of the paper are SPR Prasad of DBT-DNAFD, Arati Deshpande-Mukherjee and Veena Mushrif-Tripathy, Deccan College in Pune and Ganeshan Kumaresan at Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu.

Earlier, scholars had suggested that indigenous communities or local groups, who are descendants and stewards of the ancient remains, should decide whether and how research should go forward on these remains.

This was because most writings on ancient DNA ethics came from scholars conscious of colonial exploitation of native American tribes by people of European descent, explained Dr. Thangaraj.

But, this can be relevant for Africa with a legacy of ancient remains collected in unethical ways by colonisers and often sent abroad for research.

“Here except for regions like the Andaman Islands, it is meaningless to discuss the concept of indigeneity as most populations have inter-bred with each other thousands of years back. Similarly, across the world, local communities do not relate or represent the ancient populations due to migrations, socio-political conflicts and other reasons,” said Dr. Thangaraj.

The noted scientist observed that focus on ‘indigeneity’ can lead to divisiveness and conflict as it had happened in Europe, where scholars had worked for decades to deconstruct narratives that claim ownership of heritage by specific groups. This eventually found way to justify claims to territory in the Nazi period, he pointed out.

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