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…
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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.