Genetic ancestry

    November is family history month – and many people seek answers about their ancestry from their genes. A team of leading geneticists is warning consumers to be wary of what they might find out.
    From WHYY’s health and science desk, Kerry Grens reports from a genetics conference.

    November is family history month – and many people seek answers about their ancestry from their genes.

    A team of leading geneticists is warning consumers to be wary of what they might find out.

    From WHYY’s health and science desk, Kerry Grens reports from a genetics conference.

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    Over the past several years, dozens of genetic companies have popped up, offering consumers a glimpse into their ancestral past.

    Michael Bamshad, a professor at the University of Washington, says the tests can be inaccurate.

    Bamshad: None of the ancestral populations for which testing is being done are explicitly in those databases. For example when we talk about West African ancestry, we’re using a contemporary West African population to represent the ancestors of African Americans.

    Bamshad spoke at a press conference during the American Society for Human Genetics gathering in Philadelphia.

    Duke professor Charmaine Royal added that she has concerns about the way race is inferred by these genetic tests – when it’s actually more of a cultural distinction.

    Royal: We’re saying on the one hand that there’s no biological races and these discreet groups don’t exist but still we’re doing this work that is showing us just that.

    Royal said there are great benefits to ancestry testing in confirming family history – but dangers in reifying racial divides.

    From the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Kerry Grens, WHYY news.

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