Tue, Apr 10, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Neanderthals were perhaps capable of many modern human behaviors

Genome sequencing has changed everything we thought about our origins and how we relate to early human species

By Robin McKie  /  The Observer

Instead of a tree, a better metaphor would be a trellis, branching and remixing far back into the past, said Reich, whose work indicates that the idea of race is a very fluid, ephemeral concept.

However, he is adamant that it is a very real one and takes issue with geneticists who argue that there are no substantial differences in traits between populations.

“This is a strategy that we scientists can no longer afford and that in fact is positively harmful,” he said.

Plenty of traits show differences between populations: skin color, susceptibility to disease, the ability to breathe at high altitudes and the ability to digest starch. More to the point, uncovering these differences is only just beginning. Many more will be discovered over the decades, Reich believes.

Crucially, we need to be able to debate the implications of their presence at varying levels in different populations. That is not happening at present and that has dangerous implications.

“If as scientists we wilfully abstain from laying out a rational framework for discussing human differences, we will leave a vacuum that will be filled by pseudoscience, an outcome that is far worse than anything we could achieve by talking openly,” Reich said.

The genome revolution provides us with a shared history, he added.

“If we pay proper attention, it should give us an alternative to the evils of racism and nationalism, and make us realize that we are all entitled equally to our human heritage,” he said.

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