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The ethics and logistics of field-based genetic paternity studies


The rapidly decreasing costs of generating genetic data sequencing and the ease of new DNA collection technologies have opened up new opportunities for anthropologists to conduct field-based genetic studies. An exciting aspect of this work comes from linking genetic data with the kinds of individual-level traits evolutionary anthropologists often rely on, such as those collected in long-term demographic and ethnographic studies. However, combining these two types of data raises a host of ethical questions related to the collection, analysis and reporting of such data. Here we address this conundrum by examining one particular case, the collection and analysis of paternity data. We are particularly interested in the logistics and ethics involved in genetic paternity testing in the localized settings where anthropologists often work. We discuss the particular issues related to paternity testing in these settings, including consent and disclosure, consideration of local identity and beliefs and developing a process of continued community engagement. We then present a case study of our own research in Namibia, where we developed a multi-tiered strategy for consent and community engagement, built around a double-blind procedure for data collection, analysis and reporting.

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