Washington, Dec. 17 (Reuters): The idea of race is not reflected in a person’s genes, Brazilian researchers said on Monday, confirming what scientists have long said — that race has no meaning genetically.
The Brazilian researchers looked at one of the most racially mixed populations in the world for their study, which found there is no way to look at someone’s genes and determine his or her race. Brazilians include people of European, African and Indian, or Amerindian, descent.
“There is wide agreement among anthropologists and human geneticists that, from a biological standpoint, human races do not exist,” Sergio Pena and colleagues at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerias in Brazil and the University of Porto in Portugal wrote in their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Yet races do exist as social constructs,” they said. They found 10 gene variations that could reliably tell apart, genetically, 20 men from northern Portugal and 20 men from Sao Tome island on the west coast of Africa.
But the genetic differences did not have anything to do with physical characteristics such as skin or hair colour, the researchers found. They next tested two groups — 173 Brazilians classified as white, black, or intermediate based on arm skin color, hair colour, and nose and lip shape, and 200 men living in major metropolitan areas who classified themselves as white.
They used the 10 genetic markers that differed between people from Portugal and Africa, but found little difference among anyone in their study.
They found maternal DNA suggested that even the “white” people had, on average, 33 per cent of genes that were of Amerindian ancestry and 28 per cent African. This suggested European men often fathered children with black and Indian women. “It is interesting to note that the group of individuals classified as blacks had a very high proportion of non-African ancestry (48 per cent),” they wrote.
“In essence our data indicate that, in Brazil as a whole, colour is a weak predictor of African ancestry,” they concluded.
“Our study makes clear the hazards of equating colour or race with geographical ancestry and using interchangeably terms such as white, Caucasian and European on one hand, and black, Negro or African on the other, as is often done in scientific and medical literature.”