DNA

Pixelbay

With the advent of modern DNA tests, people can now find out their genetic makeup within days. For many the tests can help strengthen a sense of heritage and ancestry. But according to indigenous scholar Kim TallBear, a specialist in racial politics in science, the results of a DNA test do not give people a license to adopt or claim membership to a Native American community.

 

Photo of Dr. Charmaine Royal
Charmaine Royal / North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

With the rise of a competitive market for personal gene testing, the tool is becoming more available and affordable to the public. People can now swab their cheek, send the sample off to a lab, and wait patiently for a private company with a massive gene database to tell them where in the world their genes are from. But what do these tests reveal about personal identity and what do they imply about race? 

DNA Sierra Leoneans, including actor Isaiah Washington, gather in Charleston to honor their enslaved ancestors.
Alondra Nelson

Everyone has that one family member everyone else turns to for family stories and gossip. In social science this person is called the ‘kin-keeper.’ For many years, the work of the kin-keeper relied on sorting through old photo albums and boxes of paperwork sitting in the back corner of the attic.

But now, more and more Americans are turning to advanced technology like DNA testing to trace their genealogy. More than one million Americans have taken a DNA test in an attempt to trace their ancestry.

Aziz Sancar is a professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine and 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
Max Englund / UNC Health Care

Aziz Sancar grew up as a farm boy in a small town in Turkey. He was a bright child and attended medical school. He returned to his hometown and practiced medicine for a few years.

But even in his daily practice, Sancar had questions about how things worked on the molecular level.