Genetic Chaos

Friday, May 07, 2004

The uses and limitations of DNA based ancestry tests for Native Americans

Genetic assessment of Native American ancestry has moved from an academic setting to an applied one with diagnostic tests now offered by private DNA testing companies. The availability of these tests means that the benefits of this type of research can reach a larger number of individuals. Unfortunately, this also means that researchers not trained specifically in Native American prehistory or Native American genetic variation offer these tests. The result is that a number of falsehoods and misconceptions about these tests have been perpetuated (Tallbear 2003). The purpose of this article is to explain the uses of DNA based ancestry testing for Native Americans and counter the misconceptions about them. Specifically we address the uses and limitations of the three types of tests currently offered. We show how DNA testing can assist in tribal enrollment but we also discuss the limitations of DNA testing for tribal issues. Finally, we discuss what can be expected for the future of DNA based ancestry tests for Native Americans.

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