On National DNA Day, scientists are trying to take the colonialism out of genetics – Massive Science

Posted: April 26, 2020 at 3:52 am

Scientists are trying to tackle the lack of diversity seen in genomics research, but even ambitious efforts, like the NIHs All of Us program, often fall short, especially when it comes to the inclusion of Indigenous communities. This is one of the reasons why the Decolonize DNA Day conference is taking place on April 24th, one day before the National DNA Day.

Traditionally, National DNA Day is an annual celebration of the discovery of DNA's double helix structure (1953) and the completion of the Human Genome Project (2003).

I was having conversations with colleagues on what would it mean to decolonize DNA, says Krystal Tsosie, an Indigenous (Din/Navajo) PhD student at Vanderbilt University. As an Indigenous academic, we always talk about what it means to Indigenize and re-Indigenize different disciplines of academia that have been historically more white-centred or white-dominated... and what it would mean to remove the colonial lens.

In collaboration with Latrice Landry and Jerome de Groot, Tsosie co-organized the Decolonize DNA Day Twitter conference to help re-frame narratives around DNA. Each speaker will have an hour to tweet out their "talk" and lead conversations on various topics, including how DNA ancestry testing fuels anti-Indigeneity and how to utilize emerging technologies to decolonize precision medicine.

There is a divide between people who are doing the science or the academic work, and the people who we want to inform, says Tsosie. Twitter is a great way to bridge that divide.

The Decolonize DNA Day conference is simply one effort to Indigenize genomics. Tsosie is also a co-founder of the Native BioData Consortium, a non-profit organization consisting of researchers and Indigenous members of tribal communities, focused on increasing the understanding of Native American genomic issues.

We dont really see a heavy amount of Indigenous engagement in genetic studies, which then means that as precision medicine advances as a whole [] those innovations are not going to be applied to Indigenous people, says Tsosie. How do we get more Indigenous people engaged?

Some of the answers can be found in a recent Nature Reviews Genetics perspective, penned by Indigenous scientists and communities, including those from the Native BioData Consortium. The piece highlights the actions that genomics researchers can take to address issues of trust, accountability, and equity. Recommended actions include the need for early consultations, developing benefit-sharing agreements, and appropriately crediting community support in any academic publications.

By switching power dynamics, were hoping to get genomic researchers to work with us, instead of against us, says Tsosie.

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On National DNA Day, scientists are trying to take the colonialism out of genetics - Massive Science

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