Genetics and Race: Current Research and Social Impact

Fifty years ago, the understanding of genetics drastically expanded when James Watson and Francis Crick determined the precise molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The desire for a better understanding of the human body, combined with this discovery, eventually led to the creation of the Human Genome Project (HGP) in 1990—an endeavour that maps the exact composition, structure, and function of every genetic sequence in the human body. Numerous advantages and disadvantages arise from this and the resulting scientific research projects, many of which have implications on the understanding and applications of the concept of race.

Historically, the definition of race has encompassed both one’s physical appearance and cultural values and beliefs. Many studies in the 1800s and early 1900s, by scientists such as Francis Galton and Charles Davenport, used this principle to “prove” that one race was superior to others in intelligence or physical abilities. However, recent discoveries in genetic research, including the HGP, have led most scientists to challenge these past findings.

Many argue that race is, in fact, a social construct which cannot be genetically defined, since there are more genetic variations within a racial or ethnic group than among different groups. They point out that the scarcity of genetic differences does not correlate with the extensiveness of social and behavioural differences among racial and ethnic groups. On the other hand, there are researchers who rely on a genetic basis for race in their judgements and research. These scientists are investigating groupings of DNA, such as base pairs and haplotypes, that possibly makeup one’s physical aspects and medical conditions, and/or may control behavioural features including talent and personality. In spite of this increased understanding of genetic information, the societal definition of race continues to focus on physical aspects— leaving many experts concerned that the continued study of genetic functions will bear profound consequences for reinforcing or disproving racial, or even gender, stereotypes.

For example, the prevalence of medical conditions within respective minority communities has led to the assumption that certain races may be more genetically susceptible to specific diseases, which could, therefore, be treated by tailored medications or treatments. Unfortunately, these inferences, though not yet scientifically proven, have led society to discount the influence of environmental factors, such as stress from racism or poor healthcare and diet, which render tailored treatments virtually video porno useless. In addition to the implications for stereotypes and health care, some fear that genetic research will also have profound implications for individuals’ concept of self.