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Forensic genetics through the lens of Lewontin: population structure, ancestry and race.

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-08-26, 11:20 authored by Mark A. Jobling
In his famous 1972 paper, Richard Lewontin used 'classical' protein-based markers to show that greater than 85% of human genetic diversity was contained within, rather than between, populations. At that time, these same markers also formed the basis of forensic technology aiming to identify individuals. This review describes the evolution of forensic genetic methods into DNA profiling, and how the field has accounted for the apportionment of genetic diversity in considering the weight of forensic evidence. When investigative databases fail to provide a match to a crime-scene profile, specific markers can be used to seek intelligence about a suspect: these include inferences on population of origin (biogeographic ancestry) and externally visible characteristics, chiefly pigmentation of skin, hair and eyes. In this endeavour, ancestry and phenotypic variation are closely entangled. The markers used show patterns of inter- and intrapopulation diversity that are very atypical compared to the genome as a whole, and reinforce an apparent link between ancestry and racial divergence that is not systematically present otherwise. Despite the legacy of Lewontin's result, therefore, in a major area in which genetics coincides with issues of public interest, methods tend to exaggerate human differences and could thereby contribute to the reification of biological race. This article is part of the theme issue 'Celebrating 50 years since Lewontin's apportionment of human diversity'.

History

Citation

Phil.Trans. R. Soc. B377: 20200422

Author affiliation

Department of Genetics and Genome Biology

Version

  • VoR (Version of Record)

Published in

Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

Volume

377

Issue

1852

Pagination

20200422

Publisher

The Royal Society

issn

0962-8436

eissn

1471-2970

Acceptance date

2022-01-28

Copyright date

2022

Available date

2022-08-26

Spatial coverage

England

Language

eng