Dropped genetics paper lacked scientific merit


Nature 415, 115 (10 January 2002) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Sir

They used a single genetic marker, HLA DRB1, for their analysis to construct a genealogical tree and map of 28 populations from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Japan. Using results from the analysis of a single marker, particularly one likely to have undergone selection, for the purpose of reconstructing genealogies is unreliable and unacceptable practice in population genetics.

HLA genes are not used as a valid measure to determine ancestry since HLA genes, which control immune responses and are subject to environmental selection. This means they’re not reliable in determining ancestral affinity, as using them thus can find bonds of kinship between Greeks and Japanese, as well as between Nordics in Iceland and Negroids in the Congo (Mourant et al., 1976).

The limitations are made evident by the authors’ extraordinary observations that Greeks are very similar to Ethiopians and east Africans but very distant from other south Europeans; and that the Japanese are nearly identical to west and south Africans. It is surprising that the authors were not puzzled by these anomalous results, which contradict history, geography, anthropology and all prior population-genetic studies of these groups. Surely the ordinary process of refereeing would have saved the field from this dispute. We believe that the paper should have been refused for publication on the simple grounds that it lacked scientific merit.

Neil Risch

Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of
Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA

 

Alberto Piazza

Department of Genetics, Biology and Biochemistry,
University of Torino, Via Santena 19, 10126 Torino, Italy

 

L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza

Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of
Medicine, Stanford, California 94305, USA