Scanning the human genome for “signatures” of positive selection: Transformative opportunities and ethical obligations

Margarita Hernandez, George H. Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The relationship history of evolutionary anthropology and genetics is complex. At best, genetics is a beautifully integrative part of the discipline. Yet this integration has also been fraught, with punctuated, disruptive challenges to dogma, periodic reluctance by some members of the field to embrace results from analyses of genetic data, and occasional over-assertions of genetic definitiveness by geneticists. At worst, evolutionary genetics has been a tool for reinforcing racism and colonialism. While a number of genetics/genomics papers have disproportionately impacted evolutionary anthropology, here we highlight the 2002 presentation of an elegantly powerful approach for identifying “signatures” of past positive selection from haplotype-based patterns of genetic variation. Together with technological advances in genotyping methods, this article transformed our field by facilitating genome-wide “scans” for signatures of past positive selection in human populations. This approach helped researchers test longstanding evolutionary anthropology hypotheses while simultaneously providing opportunities to develop entirely new ones. Genome-wide scans for signatures of positive selection have since been conducted in diverse worldwide populations, with striking findings of local adaptation and convergent evolution. Yet there are ethical considerations with respect to the ubiquity of these studies and the cross-application of the genome-wide scan approach to existing datasets, which we also discuss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-121
Number of pages9
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology


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