Game of Bones: Power, Ethics, and Emerging Technology in Paleogenomics Research
The field of paleogenomics is exploding. More ancient genomes were sequenced in 2019 than in all of history. According to The Economist, in 2018, oil was the most traded global commodity. However, in 2021, the demand for oil was surpassed by the demand for data itself, including digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources. Despite this enthusiasm for paleogenomic insights to inform our understanding of human history and demand for DSI, the amount of human remains on planet earth is finite and sequencing can result in their permanent destruction. Thus, the sharp increase in the number of ancient DNA laboratories that are processing and sequencing ancient remains, paired with the scarcity of objects of analysis, has created a “bone rush” culture among paleogenetic scientists that is sustained by a frantic desire to publish in marquee journals.
The increased pace of paleogenomic analysis has meant an exponential increase in the destruction of the ancient human remains of Indigenous People. From the point of view of many Indigenous groups, whose ancestors are being mined for DSI, several questions arise: What power dynamics are at play? Who does…
- Lewis-Kraus, G. (2019, January 17). Is ancient DNA research revealing new truths — or falling into old traps? New York Times.
- Kolodny, A. (2012). In search of first contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the peoples of the dawnland, and the Anglo-American anxiety of discovery. Duke University Press.
- Fox, K. & Hawks, J. (2019). Use ancient remains more wisely. Nature, 572(7771), 581-583.
- Bundell, S. & Thompson, B. (Hosts). (2019, Aug 28). Podcast: Carbon-based computing, and depleting ancient-human genomes [Audio podcast episode]. In Nature Podcast. Nature.
- Eveleth, R. (Host). (2020, Aug 18). Game of Bones [Audio podcast episode]. In Flash Forward.
- Hudson, M., Garrison, N. A., Sterling, R., Caron, N. R., Fox, K., Yracheta, J., Anderson, J., Wilcox, P., Arbour, L., Brown, A., Taualii, M., Kukutai, T., Haring, R., Te Aika, B., Baynam, G. S., Dearden, P. K., Chagné, D., Malhi, R. S., Garba, I., Tiffin, N., Bolnick, D., Stott, M., Rolleston, A. K., Ballantyne, L. L., Lovett, R., David-Chavez, D., Martinez, A., Sporle, A., Walter, M., Reading, J., & Carroll, S. R. (2020). Rights, interests and expectations: Indigenous perspectives on unrestricted access to genomic data. Nature Genetics Reviews, 21(6), 377-384.
- Claw, K. G., Lippert, D., Bardill, J., Cordova, A., Fox, K, Yracheta, J. M., Bader, A. C., Bolnick, D. A., Malhi, R. S., TallBear, K., & Garrison, N. A. (2017). Chaco Canyon dig unearths ethical concerns. Human Biology, 89(3), 177-180.
- Claw, K. G., Anderson, M. Z., Begay, R. L., Tsosie, K. S., Fox, K., Garrison, N. A., & Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) Consortium. (2018). A framework for enhancing ethical genomic research with Indigenous communities. Nature Communications, 9(1), 1-7.
- Wagner, J. K., Colwell, C., Claw, K. G., Stone, A. C., Bolnick, D. A., Hawks, J., Brothers, K. B., & Garrison, N. A. (2020). Fostering responsible research on ancient DNA. American Journal of Human Genetics, 107(2), 183-195.
- Tsosie, K. S., Begay, R. L., Fox, K., & Garrison, N. A. (2020). Generations of genomes: Advances in paleogenomics technology and engagement for Indigenous people of the Americas. Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, 62(1), 91-96.
- Wright, J. L., Wasef, S., Heupink, T. H., Westaway, M. C., Rasmussen, S., Pardoe, C. Fourmile, G. G., Young, M., Johnson, T., Slade, J., Kennedy, R., Winch, Pappin, M., Wales, T., Bates, W. B., Hamilaton, S., Whyman, N., van Holst Pellekaan, S., McAllister, P. J., Taçon, P. S. C., Curnoe, D., Li, R., Millar, C., Subramanian, S., Willerslev, E., Malaspinas, A.-S., Sikora, M., & Lambert, D. M. (2018). Ancient nuclear genomes enable repatriation of Indigenous human remains. Science Advances, 4(12), 1-12.
- McGrath, K., Rowsell, K., Gates St-Pierre, C., Tedder, A., Foody, G., Roberts, C., Speller, C., & Collins, M. (2019). Identifying archaeological bone via non-destructive ZooMS and the materiality of symbolic expression: Examples from Iroquoian bone points. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 1-10.
- Vigna, P. & Casey, M. J. (2018). The truth machine: The blockchain and the future of everything. St. Martin's Publishing Group.
- Graham, S., Huffer, D., & Blackadar, J. (2020). Towards a digital sensorial archaeology as an experiment in distant viewing of the trade in human remains on Instagram. Heritage, 3(2), 208-227.
- Vernot, B. Zavala, E. I., Gómez-Olivencia, A., Jacobs, Z., Slon, V., Mafessoni, F., Romagné, F., Pearson, A., Petr, M., Sala, N., Pablos, A., Aranburu, A., Bermúdez de Castro, J. M., Carbonel1, E., Li, B., Krajcarz, M. T., Krivoshapkin, A. I., Kolobova, K. A., Kozlikin, M. B., Shunkov, M. V., Derevianko, A. P., Viola, B., Grote, S., Essel, E., López Herráez, D., Nagel, S., Nickel, B., Richter, J., Schmidt, A., Peter, B., Kelso, J., Roberts, R. G., Arsuaga, J., & Meyer, M. (2021). Unearthing Neanderthal population history using nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from cave sediments. Science, 372(6542), 1-14.
- Fox, K. (2021). Lei niho palaoa and digital tools to safeguard against the illicit use of ancient DNA. Hawaiian Archeology, 15(1), 1-6.
About ELSIhub Collections
ELSIhub Collections are essential reading lists on fundamental or emerging topics in ELSI, curated and explained by expert Collection Editors, often paired with ELSI trainees. This series assembles materials from cross-disciplinary literatures to enable quick access to key information.