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Is There a 'Race Gene'?

UK police using DNA for racial profiling

Police and law enforcement agencies increasingly use genetics to solve crimes. In some cases, DNA from a stray hair or a licked postage stamp has provided the clues needed to convict criminals or, alternatively, to absolve innocent people found guilty through circumstantial evidence.

Police in the United Kingdom are moving beyond genetic tests to match a DNA sample to a known suspect. In a controversial move, authorities are developing a genetic profiling system to predict the race of an unidentified crime suspect. The technique reportedly predicts if a sample has come from any of five racial or ethnic groups that includes Asian, African, Caucasian, Indo-Pakistani or Middle Eastern. The method has better than a 96 percent accuracy, the London Sunday Times reports.

Such racial or ethnic profiling, however, flies in the face of work by the world's leading geneticists who say that a "race gene" doesn't really exist. The genetic traits for most variations in skin color, for example, might be traceable to a single gene. But scientists aren't close to understanding how a single gene could be manipulated to produce the myriad hues of human skin color, let alone predict a person's specific skin color by identifying that gene.

A feature from the Seattle Times explains that identifying the genetic basis for race or ethnicity could turn out to be an unusually subtle and complex task.

The recently completed analysis of the human genome unraveled the genetic code from five people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. "In the five genomes there is no way to tell one ethnicity from another," says J. Craig Venter, president of Celera Genomics, which did much of the sequencing on the genome project.

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