The Rock Ethics Institute

Home > Events > The Haplotype Map Project: Refiguring the Genome with Respect to Population (and Politics)

Events

The Haplotype Map Project: Refiguring the Genome with Respect to Population (and Politics)

Stephanie Malia Fullerton, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Penn State University, is a human population geneticist retraining in the history and philosophy of human genetics with a fellowship from the NIH Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) program of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Born in Hilo, Hawaii, she is a graduate of Occidental College, Los Angeles (AB, Biochemistry) and of the University of Oxford, UK (Postgraduate Diploma, Human Biology; DPhil, Human Population Genetics), where she was a Rhodes Scholar at Somerville College. She served as a University Lecturer (assistant professor) in the Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, UK, for several years before returning to the US to pursue research full-time. Her scientific publications have focused on the identification and interpretation of human genetic variation, as it relates both to human evolutionary history and the genetic basis of common complex disease. With the opportunity to retrain, she has chosen to turn her scientific gaze toward her fellow geneticists, focusing on the epistemological, ethical, and historical phenomena underlying contemporary scientists' understandings of population-level variation in the human genome.
When Nov 06, 2003
from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Where 102 Weaver Building
Add event to calendar vCal
iCal

MALIA FULLERTON

 

NIH ELSI Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Penn State University

Stephanie Malia Fullerton, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Penn State University, is a human population geneticist retraining in the history and philosophy of human genetics with a fellowship from the NIH Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) program of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Born in Hilo, Hawaii, she is a graduate of Occidental College, Los Angeles (AB, Biochemistry) and of the University of Oxford, UK (Postgraduate Diploma, Human Biology; DPhil, Human Population Genetics), where she was a Rhodes Scholar at Somerville College. She served as a University Lecturer (assistant professor) in the Department of Anthropology, University of Durham, UK, for several years before returning to the US to pursue research full-time. Her scientific publications have focused on the identification and interpretation of human genetic variation, as it relates both to human evolutionary history and the genetic basis of common complex disease. With the opportunity to retrain, she has chosen to turn her scientific gaze toward her fellow geneticists, focusing on the epistemological, ethical, and historical phenomena underlying contemporary scientists' understandings of population-level variation in the human genome.

The Haplotype Map Project: Refiguring the Genome with Respect to Population (and Politics)

Despite what has been presented in the popular media, scientific attempts to comprehend the human ‘genetic blueprint’ did not end with the identification of the complete sequence of the Human Genome. Before the promise of better health can be realized, the information contained in our DNA must be meaningfully decoded, so that scientists can understand the ways in which individual genetic differences predispose some (but not others) to disease. The next step is, therefore, to develop the tools necessary to interrogate the genome effectively and efficiently. 

One such tool is known as a Haplotype Map. The International Haplotype Map Project, or ‘HapMap’, is a three-year $100+ million project aimed at providing an “index” to the genomic “Book of Life.” The HapMap proposes to use patterns of variation to break the genome into more manageable pieces, allowing for rapid identification of the genes most likely to be relevant to health and disease. However, features of its design and construction may also prevent the Map from being useful in many contexts. This is because the structure that one sees in human variation, expressed in terms of ‘haplotypes,’depends on how one defines and/or searches for that structure. Specifically, not one but three HapMaps are currently under construction: one for individuals of African ancestry, one for Asians, and one for Europeans.

But if humans are so genetically similar, then why are three ‘indices’ needed at all? Or, if differences are anticipated, then how do researchers plan to approach the study of individuals or groups that don’t sit easily in these primary ‘racial’ categories? For example, it is not clear how a physician studying health-related genetic differences amongst Latinos, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, will be able to make use of the racially-segregated maps likely to result from the Project. Hence, the HapMap Project could, by virtue of the analytical choices being made now, inadvertently result in furthering, rather than diminishing, the health disparities it seeks to address (not to mention reinforce the epistemologically suspect claim that genes best explain the incidence of common diseases like heart disease or diabetes).

The scientific, ethical, and political forces that have contributed to this new emphasis on difference, as opposed to similarity, in the Human Genome Project will be discussed.