Available: 10/21/20, Expires: 09/30/22
Ancient DNA (aDNA) has revolutionized how we understand the past, providing a new window into the genetic makeup of our ancestors. The number of ancient genomes, the majority generated by the Reich Laboratory, has grown exponentially during the last decade. These data have helped answer pressing questions about the migration and mixing patterns of ancient populations, the selection of genetic variants and traits, the structure of ancient social organization, and more. Yet, these new data and insights have also spurred some scholars to closely examine the ethics of aDNA research. This research inherently involves a wide range of diverse stakeholders, and anthropologists, Indigenous scholars, and ethicists have posed questions about data privacy, destructive sampling of skeletal remains, and Indigenous community engagement. The Reich lab has created a scholarly project opportunity for an HMS student to explore and address these ethical concerns, particularly in terms of research in North America.
The student mentee for this proposed scholarly project will collaborate with members of the Reich laboratory to consider critically, develop, and implement a plan to address a number of issues related the ethics of ancient DNA research. The project provides an opportunity for an HMS student to learn the fundamentals of ancient DNA, a field that is tangentially related to the topic of medical genetics that might be more familiar to a medical student. This student will be able to apply their own understanding of ethics and best practices regarding the study and treatment of humans in order to help us to better understand how we can think about best treatment of ancient humans and in turn will gain experience in a multidisciplinary field that involves geneticists, archaeologists, anthropologists, museum specialists, and Indigenous community members. Fundamentally, this project will force the HMS student to apply something that they are familiar with (research and medical ethics) to a new situation (ancient humans).
The mentee will work alongside lab members to conceptualize and evaluate various ethical approaches, and develop best-practices from those approaches that balance scientific rigor with ethical concerns. The mentee will also assist in the development of engagement opportunities between the lab and various stakeholders, especially Indigenous communities. As part of this, the mentee will help create methods for communicating and sharing the results of ancient DNA research with Indigenous communities and other stakeholders. An additional component of the scholarly project will explore what applications aDNA may have in the development of Indigenous medicine and health care.
The mentors for this project will be two post-doctoral scientists in the group (Jakob Sedig and Kendra Sirak) as well as the Principal Investigator David Reich.