Identifying Race by DNA

A consequence of the Risch and Feldman studies is that they provide, for the first time, an objective way of ascertaining an individual's race. Most previous systems of race classification, with the principal exception of modern craniometry, have been based on characteristics like skin color, which vary in an unsystematic way, and were often designed with a malign agenda such as demonstrating one race's alleged superiority to others. Not only does the genetic definition of race have no such agenda, but it has nothing directly to do with any physical attribute.

The reason is that the genetic markers used to identify race are not part of the genes or their control regions, so far as is known, and therefore play no part in the physical appearance or behavior of an individual. Presumably they are indirectly correlated with genes that do control the body's physical makeup, but the connection is indirect and at present unknown.

The DNA markers analyzed by the Feldman team are of the same type as is used in the DNA fingerprinting of forensic cases. At various sites on the human genome the sequence of DNA units goes into a sort of stutter, known as a short tandem repeat because a few units of DNA are repeated several times over, as in AC-AC-AC-AC-AC. For some reason, these stutters tend to confuse the cell's DNA copying apparatus, which every dozen or so generations may accidentally either add or delete a repeat. The exact number of repeats at a given site is therefore quite variable from one person to another, and so can be made the

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