How to handle remains of ancient humans

K V Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on October 22, 2021

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New guidelines evolved to take care of interests of all regions

An analysis of ancient DNA throws light on how people have moved, how they have evolved and on several genetic and anthropological aspects.

However, handling the remains of ancient humans has been a subject of serious discussion among the researchers, anthropologists, scientists and geneticists.

With the most of the guidelines are skewed in favour of the US, not addressing the needs of other regions of the world, a group of 64 experts from 31 countries, including from India, representing the spectrum of fields that are involved in the research of ancient DNA, have discussed in detail on a set of guidelines that take care of the interests of all countries.

They published a paper in Nature, discussing the need for ethical norms in handling ancient DNA, taking care of the needs of all regions in the world.

“Rapid growth of ancient DNA research and its impact on archaeology and other fields has prompted the need for developing universally acceptable ethical standards to govern such research,” K. Thangaraj, Chief Scientist from the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), said.

Thangaraj, who is also the Director of the DBT-Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, took part in the discussions and presented an India perspective to the issue.

“Some of the ethical issues pertaining to analysis of human remains are globally applicable whereas some differ greatly across the world. It is, therefore, critical to articulate guidelines that are rigorous yet flexible enough to be appropriate for diverse local contexts,” he said.

The current global norms are set from the perspective of the US, which don’t suit the requirements of various geographies.

Ethical norms

After the brainstorming sessions, the researchers have evolved a set of guidelines that are aimed at addressing the differences in global contexts of ancient DNA research.

“The scholars believe these guidelines are strong, universally applicable, and they have committed to the guidelines in their own work going forward,” he said.

The new guidelines are:

1. Abide by all regulations in the places where they work and from which the human remains originate (since there cannot be one set of regulations for all),

2. Prepare a detailed plan prior to beginning any study,

3. Minimize damage to human remains,

4. Ensure data are made available following publication to allow critical re-examination of scientific findings, and

5. Engage with other (non-scientist) stakeholders and ensure respect and sensitivity to stakeholder perspectives.

“These globally applicable guidelines provide an excellent ethical framework for ancient DNA research in India,” Vinay Kumar Nandicoori, Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, said.

Published on October 22, 2021

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