August 26, 2000 Compiled by Staff Writers

Race and Genetics

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Many indigenous people have always known that the racial categories recognized by society were mostly skin deep and were not the correct way to define people.

The more closely 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 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."

As it turns out, scientists say, the human species is so evolutionarily young, and its migratory patterns so wide, restless and rococo, that it has simply not had a chance to divide itself into separate biological groups in any but the most superficial ways.

"Race is a social concept, not a scientific one," said Dr. J. Craig Venter, head of the Celera Genomics Corporation in Rockville, Md. "We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the same small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world."

It is timely that scientists are now realizing what many indigenous people and our history have been saying to us. The scientists did not set out to prove the interconnectedness of us humans. They were searching for European greatness; they were searching for products to further exploit the sick, and this allowed for the unearthing of fundamental truths.

Dr. Venter and scientists at the National Institutes of Health recently announced that they had put together a draft of the entire sequence of the human genome, and the researchers had unanimously declared, there is only one race -- the human race. Dr. Venter and other researchers say that those traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin and eye color, or the width of the nose, are traits controlled by a relatively few number of genes, and thus have been able to change rapidly in response to extreme environmental pressures during the short course of Homo Sapiens history.

Equatorial populations evolved dark skin, to protect against ultraviolet radiation, while people in northern latitudes evolved pale skin, in order to produce vitamin D from pale sunlight.

About .01 percent of our genes are reflected in our external appearances and because this tiny percent together with the high percentage of ignorance many humans were relegated to enslavement and genocide.

Our present popular social structure is based on visual cues, and we have been programmed to recognize them, and to recognize individuals that way.

The criteria that people use for race are based entirely on external features that we are programmed to recognize. We were programmed to recognize them because influential Europeans, who unfortunately controlled the spread of misinformation and wars, thought it was vitally important to promote White Supremacy.

By contrast with the tiny number of genes that make some people dark-skinned and doe-eyed, and others as pale as napkins, scientists say that traits like intelligence, artistic talent and social skills are likely to be shaped by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of the 80,000 or so genes in the human genome, all working in complex combinations.

The possibility of such gene networks shifting their interrelationships wholesale in the course of humanity's brief foray across the globe, and being skewed in significant ways according to "race" is "a bogus idea," said Dr. Aravinda Chakravarti, a geneticist at Case Western University in Cleveland.

The differences that we see in skin color do not translate into widespread biological differences that are unique to groups. They more allow us to reflect on the socializing that went along with the development of our differences that enabled us to survive in a given environment.

Dr. Jurgen K. Naggert, a geneticist at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Me., said: "These big groups that we characterize as races are too heterogeneous to lump together in a scientific way.

If you are doing a DNA study to look for markers for a particular disease, you cannot use 'Caucasians' as a group. They are too diverse.

Some may believe that most differences between races are superficial, but the differences are there, and they are informative about the origins and migrations of our species. To appreciate the views and ideas of another group of people, we have to get data from their part of the world, and look at differences within groups and between groups. It helps to have labels for groups.

There are fundamental differences among different races that extend to the way groups of people use their brain and perceive the world.

People like Dr. J. Philippe Rushton, a psychologist at The University of Western Ontario in Canada and author of "Race, Evolution and Behavior," who hold the belief that the three major races differ genetically in ways that affect average group I.Q. and a race can show a propensity toward criminal behavior, are the most ignorant of all. He asserts that his work reveals East Asians to have the largest average brain size and intelligence scores, those of African descent to have the smallest average brains and I.Q.'s, and those of European ancestry to fall in the middle.

Typical European Bigger equals Better mentality.

People's I.Q. have to be evaluated in relation to their environment and historical experiences, plus what access they have to information that can enhance their life. What people, whose yardstick for success is material possessions, call enhanced life is a destructive lifestyle to people who use social responsibility and morality as their yardstick for evaluating success. In other words, one's I.Q. has to be relative to one's desires and value system.

What some of these scientific fools forget is that women, for example, have smaller brains than men do, even when adjusted for their comparatively smaller body mass, yet the average male and female I.Q. scores are the same by European standards. My evaluation shows that most females are far more intelligent than males. For that matter, fossil evidence suggests that Neanderthals had very sizable brains, and they did not survive as a group.

There is no scientific evidence to support substantial differences between groups using the popular European yardstick for evaluating intelligence. However if different groups of people, especially those that are considered the underclass, had access to a certain type of information about themselves then I can assure the scientists that even by their evaluative processes, these people will be seen as far more intelligent. However, ignorance is an equal opportunity affliction.

Although research into the structure and sequence of the human genome is in its infancy, geneticists have pieced together a rough outline of human genomic history, called the "Out of Africa" or "Evolutionary Eve" hypothesis to some and fact to intelligent people.

By this theory, modern Homo sapiens originated in Africa 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, at which point a relatively small number of them, maybe 10,000 or so, began migrating into the Middle East, Europe, Asia and across the Bering landmass into the Americas. As they traveled, they seem to have completely or largely displaced archaic humans already living in the various continents. At an earlier time, these archaic humans had migrated to these continents from Africa.

Since the African emigrations began, a mere 7,000 generations have passed. In addition, because the founding population of immigrants was small, it could only take so much genetic variation with it. Because of that combination, (a limited founder population and a short time since dispersal) humans are strikingly homogeneous, differing from one another only once in a thousand subunits of the genome.

"We are a small population grown large in the blink of an eye," Dr. Lander said. "We are a little village that's grown all over the world, and we retain the genetic variation seen in that little village."

The human genome is large, though, composed of three billion-odd subunits, or bases, which means that even a tiny percentage of variation from one individual to the next amounts to a sizable number of genetic discrepancies.

The question is, where in the genome is that variation found, and how is it distributed among different populations?

Through global sampling of neutral genetic markers (stretches of genetic material that do not help create the body's functioning proteins but instead are composed of so-called 'junk DNA') researchers have found that, on average, 88 percent to 90 percent of the differences between people occur within their local populations, while only about 10 percent to 12 percent of the differences distinguish one population, or race, from another.

To put it another way, the citizens of any given village in the world, whether in Scotland or Tanzania, hold 90 percent of the genetic variability that humanity has to offer.

However, that 90/10 ratio is just an average, and refers only to 'junk-DNA' markers.

For the genetic material that encodes proteins, the picture is somewhat more complex. Many workhorse genes responsible for basic organ functions show virtually no variability from individual to individual, which means they are even less "race specific" than are neutral genetic markers.

Some genes, notably those of the immune system, show enormous variability, but the variability does not track with racial groupings. Then there are the genes that control pigmentation and other physical features. These also come in a wide assortment of "flavors," but unlike immune-related genes, they are often distributed in population-specific clusters, resulting in Swedes who look far more like other Swedes than they do like Australian Aborigines.

A few group differences are more than skin deep. Among the most famous examples are the elevated rates of sickle-cell anemia among African-Americans and of betathalassemia, another hemoglobin disorder, among those of Mediterranean heritage. Both traits evolved to help the ancestors of these groups resist malaria infection, but both prove lethal when inherited in a double dose. As with differences in skin pigmentation, the means to do so was through the alteration of a single gene.

Another cause of group differences is the so-called founder effect. In such cases, the high prevalence of an unusual condition in a population can be traced to a founding ancestor who happened to carry a novel mutation into the region. Over many generations of comparative isolation and inbreeding, the community, like it or not, became "enriched" with the founder's disorder. The founder effect explains the high incidence of Huntington's neuro-degenerative disease in the Lake Maracaibo region of Venezuela, and of Tay-Sachs disease among Ashkenazi Jews.

Dr. Naggert emphasized that medical geneticists had a much better chance of unearthing these founder effects by scrutinizing small, isolated and well-defined populations, like the northern Finns, the Basques of Spain, or the Amish of Pennsylvania, than they did by going after "races." Dr. Sonia S. Anand, an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, proposed that clinicians think about ethnicity rather than race when seeking clues to how disease patterns differ from one group to the next.

Ethnicity is a broad concept that encompasses both genetics and culture. Thinking about ethnicity is a way to bring together questions of a person's biology, lifestyle and diet. Ethnicity is about phenotype and genotype, and it allows people to look at differences between groups in another way. However, studying the effects of racial labeling is imperative and a prerequisite to correcting the errors of the past.

In investigating the reasons behind the high incidence of cardiovascular disease among people from the Indian subcontinent, for example, Dr. Anand discovered that Indians had comparatively elevated amounts of clotting factors in their blood. Beyond tallying up innate traits, she also takes into account how Indian culture and life habits may pose added risks for heart disease.

The science of human origins can help to heal the many wounds that pseudo-scientists have inflicted on us.

Scientists got us into this problem in the first place, with their measurements of skulls and their emphasis on racial differences and racial classifications.

Science can now get us out of it. We need more leaders to promote the evolutionary understanding of our human race.

Abstracts from various scientific articles at Nature .com and news reports.


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