Do Races Differ? Not Really, Genes Show

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-12-23 19:55Z by Steven

Do Races Differ? Not Really, Genes Show

The New York Times

Natalie Angier, Science Columnist

In these glossy, lightweight days of an election year, it seems, they can’t build metaphorical tents big or fast enough for every politician who wants to pitch one up and invite the multicultural folds to ”Come on under!” The feel-good message that both parties seek to convey is: regardless of race or creed, we really ARE all kin beneath the skin.

Yet whatever the calculated quality of this new politics of inclusion, its sentiment accords firmly with scientists’ growing knowledge of the profound genetic fraternity that binds together human beings of the most seemingly disparate origins.

Scientists have long suspected that the racial categories recognized by society are not reflected on the genetic level. But the more closely that researchers examine the human genome — the complement of genetic material encased in the heart of almost every cell of the body — the more most of them are convinced that the standard labels used to distinguish people by ”race” have little or no biological meaning.

They say that while it may seem easy to tell at a glance whether a person is Caucasian, African or Asian, the ease dissolves when one probes beneath surface characteristics and scans the genome for DNA hallmarks of “race.”…

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Racial Medicine: Not So Fast

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2013-02-04 02:54Z by Steven

Racial Medicine: Not So Fast

The Daily Beast

Sharon Begley, Senior Health and Science Correspondent

Next time you want to start a bar fight, proclaim to everyone within earshot that “race is not real; it is just a social and cultural construct and has no biological validity.” Then duck before you get punched in the face. . . . but as you’re avoiding injury try to hand your would-be assailants a new paper published online this afternoon by the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, which concludes that classifying people by the crude category of race—as in, of African, Asian or European ancestry—for medical purposes, as some people want to do, is really, really stupid…

…Which brings us to the new study. Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute got the cool idea of analyzing the genomes of two white guys who, according to the conventional racial categories, belong to the same race. The two are Venter himself and James Watson, co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA. Venter led the private effort to sequence the human genome, winding up in a tie with the public project to do the same.

It happens that the genomes of both men are in the public domain. Watson agreed to have his sequenced and published last year, with Venter right behind. So what do the genomes reveal?

The two men metabolize drugs, including antidepressants, codeine, antipsychotics and the cancer drug tamoxifen, differently. Venter has two functional copies of the CYP2D6 form of the cytochrome P-450 gene, which metabolizes more than 75 percent of drugs, while Watson has two copies of the more-sluggish variant of the gene. That’s rare for Caucasians (only 3 percent of whites have the sluggish version), but common in East Asians (49 percent of whom have it). Funny, Watson doesn’t look Chinese. But if Watson’s doctor decided to use race-based medicine to predict how he would metabolize drugs, she’d say, well, we have a white guy here, and whites rarely have the sluggish version, so I’ll assume Watson doesn’t have it either. As a result, the drug would stay in Watson’s system longer, with stronger effects compared to someone in whom the drug was quickly metabolized and cleared from the body. “It is unlikely that a doctor would guess that optimal drug dosages might differ for Drs. Watson and Venter,” the scientists write.

That’s why Venter and colleagues conclude that race is too crude a proxy for what genetic group—ethnicity or, as biologists say, population—someone belongs to. It is imperative to “go beyond simplistic ethnic categorization,” they write, since that can be seriously—and perhaps fatally—misleading. (In the U.S., some 100,000 people a year die of adverse drug reactions, many caused by an inability to properly metabolize the medication because of a particular CYP2D6 variation.) “Race/ethnicity should be considered only a makeshift solution for personalized genomics because it is too approximate,” they write…

Read the entire article here.

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Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice

Posted in Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-05-17 02:22Z by Steven

Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice

Stanford University Press
April 2012
280 pages
Cloth ISBN: 9780804774079
Paper ISBN: 9780804774086
E-book: ISBN: 9780804782050

Catherine Bliss, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of California, San Francisco

Winner of the 2014 Oliver Cromwell Cox Award, sponsored by the ASA Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities.

In 2000, with the success of the Human Genome Project, scientists declared the death of race in biology and medicine. But within five years, many of these same scientists had reversed course and embarked upon a new hunt for the biological meaning of race. Drawing on personal interviews and life stories, Race Decoded takes us into the world of elite genome scientists—including Francis Collins, director of the NIH; Craig Venter, the first person to create a synthetic genome; and Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, among others—to show how and why they are formulating new ways of thinking about race.

In this original exploration, Catherine Bliss reveals a paradigm shift, both at the level of science and society, from colorblindness to racial consciousness. Scientists have been fighting older understandings of race in biology while simultaneously promoting a new grand-scale program of minority inclusion. In selecting research topics or considering research design, scientists routinely draw upon personal experience of race to push the public to think about race as a biosocial entity, and even those of the most privileged racial and social backgrounds incorporate identity politics in the scientific process. Though individual scientists may view their positions differently—whether as a black civil rights activist or a white bench scientist—all stakeholders in the scientific debates are drawing on memories of racial discrimination to fashion a science-based activism to fight for social justice.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. The New Science of Race
  • 2. Making Science Racial
  • 3. The Sociogenomic Paradigm
  • 4. Making Sense of Race with Values
  • 5. Everyday Race-Positive
  • 6. Activism and Expertise
  • 7. The Enduring Trouble with Race
  • Notes
  • Index
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