In a policy forum, Anna Lewis and her colleagues argue that for researchers and others wishing to invoke genetic ancestry, there is a scientific and ethical imperative to move away from continental ancestry categories and embrace rather a view of genetic ancestry that reflects continuous variation. and historical depth. Such a shift is a “prerequisite for any research that seeks links between genetics and health disparities,” the authors state. Continued reliance on continental ancestry categories risks exacerbating medical stereotypes about individuals and groups, contributing to rather than solving health disparities, and perpetuating (mis)understandings of race as biological, they add. Many research institutes are reconsidering their use of race as a biological variable and instead turning to concepts derived from genetics to capture the differences between groups of humans. Genetic ancestry – a dominant description of genetic ancestry associated with continents as meaningful groupings – is one of the main alternatives offered. However, the increasing prevalence of the use of categories of continental ancestry, such as “African ancestry” or “European ancestry”, has led to problematic ethical issues. Here Lewis et al. highlight the ethical concerns surrounding the continued use of continental ancestry to group individuals. Rather, they argue for the widespread adoption of a more complex approach to genetic ancestry—a multidimensional, continuous, and categoryless concept that reflects our historical depth and the full spectrum of human variation. lewis et al. provide a roadmap to achieve this goal, a journey that will require systems-level change, including new tools, methodologies and data structures, and a better understanding of how and why different fields use and apply the concept of ancestry. “Science is reductive, and a model that uses simple continental categories has been helpful in starting the process of understanding human genetic diversity,” Lewis writes. et al. “But all patterns have their legitimate areas of application and limitations, and a much more complex set of patterns should now be standard across a wide variety of use cases.”
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Obtaining genetic ancestry for science and society
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