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, 47 Pt A, 173-84

Biogeographical Ancestry and Race

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Biogeographical Ancestry and Race

Lisa Gannett. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci.

Abstract

The use of racial and ethnic categories in biological and biomedical research is controversial-for example, in the comparison of disease risk in different groups or as a means of making use of or controlling for population structure in the mapping of genes to chromosomes. Biogeographical ancestry (BGA) has been recommended as a more accurate and appropriate category. BGA is a product of the collaboration between biological anthropologist Mark Shriver from Pennsylvania State University and molecular biologist Tony Frudakis from the now-defunct biotechnology start-up company DNAPrint genomics, Inc. Shriver and Frudakis portray BGA as a measure of the 'biological', 'genetic', 'natural', and 'objective' components of race and ethnicity, what philosophers of science would call a natural kind. This paper argues that BGA is not a natural kind that escapes social and political connotations of race and ethnicity, as Shriver and Frudakis and other proponents believe, but a construction that is built upon race-as race has been socially constructed in the European scientific and philosophical traditions. More specifically, BGA is not a global category of biological and anthropological classification but a local category shaped by the U.S. context of its production, especially the forensic aim of being able to predict the race or ethnicity of an unknown suspect based on DNA found at the crime scene. Therefore, caution needs to be exercised in the embrace of BGA as an alternative to the use of racial and ethnic categories in biological and biomedical research.

Keywords: Ancestry-informative marker (AIM); Biogeographical ancestry (BGA); Genetics; Genomics; Population structure; Race.

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