Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice

By Catherine Bliss | Go to book overview
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3 The Sociogenomic Paradigm

IN JUNE 2003 police officers tracking a Louisiana serial killer used a racial profile constructed from DNA left at the scene of the crime to catch the perpetrator. Louisiana law enforcement had been searching for a white male suspect after having been tipped off by witnesses to the crimes. However, the results of a DNA test provided by Florida-based DNAPrint Genomics, Inc., indicated that the suspect was a man with “eighty-five percent African ancestry and fifteen percent Native American ancestry.”1 The chief scientific officer of DNAPrint, biochemist Tony Frudakis, told the officers, “You’re wasting your time dragneting Caucasians; your killer is African American.” Mark Shriver, inventor of the test and other admixture mapping software based on ancestry informative markers, insisted that genomic admixture studies proved that lay stereotypes were incongruent with genetic ancestry. Good Morning America quoted him as saying that the test dispelled the notion that all serial killers are white.2 When law enforcement officials apprehended Derrick Lee Todd, an African American man who turned out to be responsible for the killings, Frudakis said the technology was like a more reliable eyewitness account, one that could assess a person’s racial proportions.3 At the time, the company was busy developing tests based on markers associated with skin color and eye color.4 Police departments began signing up to be the next to successfully apply the technology.5

DNAPrint’s marketing of racial “PhotoFit” technology created a firestorm inside and outside the field of genomics. A number of ELSI bioethicists warned


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Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice


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