Category Archives: race

Concern for the use of genetic tests for Nazi purposes

As Van Ardsdale explains purity is not a genetic reality, first of all because each time a new person is conceived (by the enjoyable but quite impure act of sex) admixture takes place (and if mum and dad are genetically too similar, then inbreeding happens what is generally bad). So whoever would wish to imagine themselves as pure should not look into genetics but into Platonic solids or something.
But the right tools in the wrong hands typically has the wrong results. And the tool of genetic analysis in the hands of Hitler* or the like could be used to entice racist discrimination. 
Nature reports that a Hungarian genetic testing company, Nagy Gén, has issued a certificate by which a person, a Hungarian Nazi member of the criminal Jobbik party, was said to have no Jewish nor Roma ancestry. 

Nagy Gén scanned 18 positions in the MP’s genome for variants that it says are characteristic of Roma and Jewish ethnic groups; its report concludes that Roma and Jewish ancestry can be ruled out.

It’s difficult to imagine how the company could certify that because there are no absolute lines defining such ethnic categories, not in the genetic aspect either, just clinal trends.
I understand from the context (18 positions) that the test is one of those biometric AIM-based tests that police uses sometimes to attempt to guess (without any certainty) the ancestry of suspects.
The scandalous certificate was first posted at a Nazi site, which praised the intent but (correctly) dismissed the scientific quality of the test. It was later republished at a Magyar-language news blog
The affair underlines the dangers of all kind of biometrics, be them genetic or anthropometric, when used for reasons that are not pure science. That’s a reason why I do not generally favor private, commercial genetic testing but rather academic studies of populations with prehistory reconstruction intent. 
Personally I have never got myself tested nor I really care much because what matter for me is not “my” private ancestry but, if anything, the ancestry of the diverse peoples and communities, what can tell us something about their history and prehistory.
* Incidentally, I suspect that Hitler would have got serious problems promoting his racist ideas if he would have got access to genetic analysis because his paternal lineage was quite Mediterranean and ultimately rooted in Africa (it could even be Jewish, although hard to tell ultimately). He would have had to lie even to himself, abandon his racism or maybe kill himself (mostly good results).
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Europe, genetic testing, Genetics, Hungary, race


Anomalous Paleolithic skull from South China

This is sure going to cause some heated debates:
See also the press release (Eureka Alert) and a photo gallery (Live Science).
And this is what is all about:

It’s not the skull of Darth Vader, although I know you thought so as soon as you saw it, but actually that of a person living some 14,000 years ago at Longling cave, known as Longlin 1.
The authors of the paper argue on craniometric grounds that the specimen may not be a modern human, however in all PC analysis the skull falls (oddly enough) within or very close to modern human clusters. Only in the PC3 some differences show up. 
In fact the closest among those skulls analyzed in fig. 8 is Mai Da Nuoc[PDF], an Early Hoabinhian skull from nearby Vietnam, which is claimed to be Australoid (but does not look at all like the Australian skulls I’m familiar with, normally quite broader).
In fact I have been searching and I found at least one skull that looks a lot like Longlin 1: Peñón woman from Mexico:

She’s one of a number of Paleoindian skulls that have puzzled prehistorians because they are not quite like most modern Native American skulls. However to my eyes, the Peñuelas skull (Chile) skull is not that different, even if it is also more like modern Native American ones.
Also to my eyes, those very marked cheek bones (regardless of whether they may have been produced by mastication) remind me of one of the most characteristic traits of the so-called Mongoloid type (which is quite unreal and plural in fact): prominent cheekbones that give the face a flat appearance.
But I’ll leave that to the experts. Not worth bumping heads for something that may well be partly epigenetic/environmental for all I know.
What I do not see is any ground for the claims of the authors that it could be a newly found species. They even have worked a fancy reconstruction that makes Longlin 1 to look like a well-known reconstruction (by the same author) of the notorious Hobbit (when the skulls do not look at all similar):

Credit: Peter Schouten (info)
Notice please how any trait that could make him look Mongoloid (East Asian or Native American) has been scrapped from the reconstruction: he has dark brown skin, beard (which could well have been shaven by a professional just yesterday) and a hairy body, a very broad nose that does not fit at all with the small triangular orifice, absolute lack of epicanthic fold – plus very small ears that make him look odd. 
Another analyzed skull from the same area is Maludong 1704, of which only the vault remains. This one overlaps in the analysis (fig. 9) with Crô-Magnon 1, however when more samples are added (fig. 10) some archaic skulls (H. erectus) also show up close, as do again CM1, early African H. sapiens and Nazlet Khater 2. 
For me, with due caution, modern proto-Mongoloid H. sapiens (anomalous) but your call: the debate is served.

Update (Mar 17): I must mention that the excellent anthropological artist Zaender (which I have mentioned before) has also produced his own versions of the Maludong people without most of the exotic fancy of Schouten’s reconstruction:

Credit Zaender

He has another example at his blog: Regional Ancestry Bands.

The ears still look small to me and the nose and lips unnecessarily too wide but it is probably more correct re. eyes and hair.

In any case it makes evident that it’s very difficult to actually reconstruct a face from just a skull when all the expressiveness and even most ethnic traits are in the flesh and skin, being impossible to discern from a mere skull.


Brazilians are much more homogeneous than ‘racial’ categories suggest

This is a very revealing paper on Brazilian genetic makeup and the shallowness of racial classification in general:
Based on pre-DNA racial/color methodology, clinical and pharmacological trials have traditionally considered the different geographical regions of Brazil as being very heterogeneous. We wished to ascertain how such diversity of regional color categories correlated with ancestry. Using a panel of 40 validated ancestry-informative insertion-deletion DNA polymorphisms we estimated individually the European, African and Amerindian ancestry components of 934 self-categorized White, Brown or Black Brazilians from the four most populous regions of the Country. We unraveled great ancestral diversity between and within the different regions. Especially, color categories in the northern part of Brazil diverged significantly in their ancestry proportions from their counterparts in the southern part of the Country, indicating that diverse regional semantics were being used in the self-classification as White, Brown or Black. To circumvent these regional subjective differences in color perception, we estimated the general ancestry proportions of each of the four regions in a form independent of color considerations. For that, we multiplied the proportions of a given ancestry in a given color category by the official census information about the proportion of that color category in the specific region, to arrive at a “total ancestry” estimate. Once such a calculation was performed, there emerged a much higher level of uniformity than previously expected. In all regions studied, the European ancestry was predominant, with proportions ranging from 60.6% in the Northeast to 77.7% in the South. We propose that the immigration of six million Europeans to Brazil in the 19th and 20th centuries – a phenomenon described and intended as the “whitening of Brazil” – is in large part responsible for dissipating previous ancestry dissimilarities that reflected region-specific population histories. These findings, of both clinical and sociological importance for Brazil, should also be relevant to other countries with ancestrally admixed populations.

Real ancestry of various regional populations divided by racial self-description (fig. 2):

It is I think quite interesting to realize that racial categories are often meaningless in representing the real ancestry of individuals collectives. This is specially true for the brown (pardo) and black (preto)  categories but, in the north specially, it is also very true for the category white (branco). In this sense, the Brazilian census would probably do well dropping racial categories altogether, as they are obviously without meaning. 
Overall Brazilians seem mostly of European ancestry (60-80%), with some lesser regional variability, as is very apparent in figure 3:

Native American ancestry is rather homogeneous by regions, making up 7-10% of the ancestry except in the North (Amazon) region, where it’s double (19%). African ancestry is somewhat more important and also regionally variable: 10% to 29% (this last in the Northeast).
Notice anyhow that the samples were collected in six specific cities and that specially the vast Amazon region is probably under-represented (as the only sample comes from Belem, a large city of the coast). I’d dare say that the vast Brazilian interior (all samples are from the coast) must be stronger in Native American ancestry, even if we do not consider the surviving aboriginal populations, but only the creoles.

Selection in looks?

A new research paper finds that many genes involved in appearance have rather clear indications of positive selection.
From the Abstract:


Here, we study the level of population differentiation among different populations of human genes. Intriguingly, genes involved in osteoblast development were identified as being enriched with higher FST SNPs, a result consistent with the proposed role of the skeletal system in accounting for variation among human populations. Genes involved in the development of hair follicles, where hair is produced, were also found to have higher levels of population differentiation, consistent with hair morphology being a distinctive trait among human populations. Other genes that showed higher levels of population differentiation include those involved in pigmentation, spermatid, nervous system and organ development, and some metabolic pathways, but few involved with the immune system. Disease-related genes demonstrate excessive SNPs with lower levels of population differentiation, probably due to purifying selection. Surprisingly, we find that Mendelian-disease genes appear to have a significant excessive of SNPs with high levels of population differentiation, possibly because the incidence and susceptibility of these diseases show differences among populations. As expected, microRNA regulated genes show lower levels of population differentiation due to purifying selection. 
While the paper does not seem to suggest why these patterns of inter-population differentiation are stronger in the genes of appearance mostly, I’d say that the selection involved is directly social and sexual and largely the same pattern by which races appeared and are maintained (to some extent). Intuitively people tend to favor statistically more those who look like themselves of people they know and have good opinion of. That way certain looks or family air are sustainedly favored within each population (the son who looks more like the father, the person who looks more sexy according to certain parameters, largely socio-cultural, etc.) producing eventually what we call races, more apparent than the actual underlying differences between populations, which are invariably much smaller than it looks.