border
  Anthropology, Genetic Diversity, and Ethics 
 
 
A workshop at the Center for Twentieth Century Studies 
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee  
 
 
 
Jain Naidu*
[Participant Information]

We are here in this session wondering, discussing about successful research collaborations, and what are the principles behind successful collaboration.  How successful interactions between populations and researchers can be achieved?  These are the two points that I'm going to discuss.  I am also going to talk about some of the reactions to our work from the press and the public.  This is work we did in collaboration with University of Utah, and this collaboration was a successful one. 

The principle behind it is, first of all, to have a successful collaboration, first, basically there should be mutual trust between collaborators.  Yes, we had the mutual trust, and then we had equal partnership, then we had common interests, meaning to know the origin of the populations, the evolution of the various Indian populations, especially south Indian populations.  We also had specific goals: what is exactly the evolution of this population, and what are their affinities toward Europeans, Africans, and other populations.  The success of our project depends on the rapport of the local scientists with the populations that they are studying.  And we had this rapport, because we had been studying the local populations for various markers like morphological markers initially, later serological markers, then biochemical markers, and then later the DNA markers.  So we had visited these populations several times.  To achieve rapport, usually you go to some functions -- their personal functions, like marriages, attend village functions and rituals, and so then you will become part of them [the population].  And you will be showing your face several times, and you will become, well, a popular man, or otherwise "Oh, this Naidu is, we have seen, yes, several times." 

This is the type of result that we were seeking in this collaboration.  Many people will agree to participate if you think that it is good for them.  However, you must also tell them about the potential risks.  However, the perception of risk by people in the United States versus developing countries, undeveloped countries, is totally different.  Our people, they never say, "Why you have mentioned the name of our caste?  Why you have mentioned upper caste and lower caste?"  That's what they say, simply because it is a reality.  Suppose if you are an American, if you say that, if somebody says that you are an American, is it wrong?  No.  In the same way, someone may belong to a particular caste, a particular group, say, Afro-Indian or Afro-American. 

And then we have a memorandum of understanding.  This memorandum of understanding says we have responsibilities also.  Someone will collect samples, analyze and extract the DNA, and process DNA at one place; the DNA will be extracted in another place, the DNA will be processed or analyzed and scientists will be exchanged.  Already, two scientists from Utah have visited our place twice. And from our side, one colleague of mine has visited, I am visiting, and another person is also likely to visit.  And then, transfer of technology.  Whatever you are doing here, okay, we can also duplicate in India.  The lab can be equipped, and hands-on experience can be given to various people.  And then we can transfer the technology. 

And partnership in publications.  We have already published three papers.  One of the papers that was recently published, as Lynn Jorde was telling you, in Nature, in the October issue of 1998.  We also had to respect the laws of the government, that's local government.  I think we have respected the government's laws within the United States and the collaborators from Utah has to respect the laws of our government.  I think I have to mention here that we also have to respect the culture of the people, sentiments of the people, and also beliefs of the people. 

Regarding ethical issues, in India, the debate has been going on over what kind of research can be done, what are the pros and what are the cons.  All these things are being discussed now.  While we are talking about group consent let me address a few issues.  If you get a small population, I think I was mentioning in the group where I was, if you get a small population, we can make a group consent.  But in India, each population will be in millions; and these are widely dispersed.  There is no possibility of taking group consent as it is, because even if you get consent from one place, in another place they may say no, so never will you do any research.  So as such, it may not be possible to take group consent.  However, whenever you do research in India consent from the individual is obtained.  Most of the populations in India are illiterate although in the cities, they are literate.  And that said, we can take one thing, I think.  We can take videograph of the consent.  You tell them in the local language that you are doing this research for a particular purpose.  Then he says yes, you can take my blood and he will tell in his own words.  This will be videographed, and that will become a legal consent document. 

Earlier today Lynn Jorde was showing you the genetic distance between various caste groups.  See here, one press say, one paper says, "Your caste is in your genes."  We told them that the Indian population has some special populations, nut caste is not in the genes.  But the press people understand that way, and they would like to overemphasize a small point, which is not really important.  Whatever is important, they don't want to do.  So always, I think sometimes, some people, they would like to take the wrong side of the news, or the negative side of the news but not the positive side.  And another press is "DNA and Caste: A Deadly Combination," meaning, if by mistake, you give a blood sample away, then people will know about your caste.  So what?  If people know that he is an Indian, or he is an American, or he is somebody else, so what?  Is he not an Indian, or is he not an American?  So it doesn't matter who it is.  In India at least, we don't.  And "Scientists tell your caste through your blood."  Then "Caste system alters genetic makeup."  Okay, this can be accepted, because a particular type of mating pattern is being practiced, and the genetic makeup of any population depends on its mating practices.  So that is a valid statement.  There were also reporters that are really science reporters, and hence they could understand the actual purpose of our paper.  "Women’s' genes migrate up."  Okay, that's also acceptable, because in this particular system, the marriages are between a higher caste person and a lower-caste woman.  And as such, the lower caste woman wants to be picked, because it is a patriarchal society.  So as such, the mother comes to the higher caste, and as such she will be the middle caste person, from lower to middle.  And sometimes, actually, most of the time, when a marriage goes outside the community -- actually, always marriage will be between the community.  But if it goes outside, the nearest community it will go.  The nearest community is a middle rank community.  So they will go to a middle rank, and they will pick up a girl, and the middle rank girl will go to the higher rank.  In the same way, middle class people, they pick up lower rank one, and the lower rank girl comes up to middle.  So that way, the female genes, not as genes, but mitochondrial genes, they will migrate.  So that's why whatever they said, "Women's genes migrates up," or "Women's genes migrate up," so that is accepted. 

 "Genetic research divides people."  But in our publications when there are differences between genes in these populations, these differences are small.  We have also pointed out what is the genetic distance between one population to another population.  I continue by showing the slide where the green color represents the higher caste, and the yellow color represents the lower caste.  We find the higher castes are clustering at one place, the middle castes are clustering at another place, and the lower castes are clustering in a different place.  So the same hierarchy that has existed for several centuries is reflected in the genes, or reflected in the DNA.  We have taken Y chromosomal DNA as well as mtDNA.  The mtDNA just really shows that there is a distance between higher caste and the lower caste, and relatively small distance between higher caste and middle caste.  We have used this scientific tool to tell, or to reflect what was the past, that's all.  So actually, there is nothing people should worry about. 

What we say is to accept reality.  However, there were some people who said to us, "You mentioned that we, female genes are going up, which means you also mentioned in your paper that higher caste people, men, can marry lower caste women.  Why it is not vice versa?"  We simply ask, yes, was there a practice earlier?  It was not there.  But now it is the practice.  Even lower caste men can marry higher caste women; that's only just to this century, because of development in education and other things, people migrate to cities.  Once they migrate to cities, they can marry.  After some time, probably, whatever results that are shown now, may be different, because the practice is changing.  But how many people are following these old practices?  Higher caste man marrying a lower caste woman, you take one proportion.  And vice versa, it has not been practiced, but now it is being practiced.  So given this explanation, that way, people are really not bothered, but politicians are taking advantage, because they are not really reading the paper.  But they are reading what is printed in the newspaper, and they say, "Oh, geneticists are doing something wrong, so let us stop the geneticists doing [it]."  Then when they approach and when we approach them, then they mention, "Oh, we never thought that it's like this, your papers are like that."  Let us accept reality.  I mean, we are not really playing with the caste.  Just we are telling what are the castes, that's all.    And so, once or twice, the press would try to mislead the reader, but once we have told what is the objective and what are exactly the results, then they wouldn't print it.  So let us also not overemphasize the wrong point.  Let us take all the interests social scientists, anthropologists, and people belonging to different particular communities.  But at the same time, let us not stop research activities.  Thank you. 

*This talk has been edited for web publishing by the author.

 
 
 
Home 
Program 
Participants 
Comments