Posted on April 20, 2022

Getting Genetic Ancestry Right for Science and Society

Anna C. F. Lews et al., Science, April 14, 2022

Glaring health disparities have reinvigorated debate about the relevance of race to health, including how race should and should not be used as a variable in research and biomedicine (1). After a long history of race being treated as a biological variable, there is now broad agreement that racial classifications are a product of historically contingent social, economic, and political processes. Many institutions have thus been reexamining their use of race and racism and stating intentions about how race should be used going forward. One common proposal is to use genetic concepts—in particular, genetic ancestry and population categories—as a replacement for race (2). However, the use of ancestry categories has technical limitations, fails to adequately capture human genetic diversity and demographic history, and risks retaining one of the most problematic aspects of race—an essentialist link to biology—by allowing genetic ancestry categories to stand in its place.