Ethics of DNA research on human remains: five globally applicable guidelines

Nature. 2021 Nov;599(7883):41-46. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04008-x. Epub 2021 Oct 20.


We are a group of archaeologists, anthropologists, curators and geneticists representing diverse global communities and 31 countries. All of us met in a virtual workshop dedicated to ethics in ancient DNA research held in November 2020. There was widespread agreement that globally applicable ethical guidelines are needed, but that recent recommendations grounded in discussion about research on human remains from North America are not always generalizable worldwide. Here we propose the following globally applicable guidelines, taking into consideration diverse contexts. These hold that: (1) researchers must ensure that all regulations were followed in the places where they work and from which the human remains derived; (2) researchers must prepare a detailed plan prior to beginning any study; (3) researchers must minimize damage to human remains; (4) researchers must ensure that data are made available following publication to allow critical re-examination of scientific findings; and (5) researchers must engage with other stakeholders from the beginning of a study and ensure respect and sensitivity to stakeholder perspectives. We commit to adhering to these guidelines and expect they will promote a high ethical standard in DNA research on human remains going forward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Anthropology / ethics
  • Archaeology / ethics
  • Cadaver*
  • Community-Institutional Relations
  • DNA, Ancient / analysis*
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Human Genetics / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Internationality*
  • Molecular Biology / ethics*
  • Stakeholder Participation
  • Translations


  • DNA, Ancient