Race and DNA

08.05.2005 | Science, Research, Campus and CommunityTroy Duster, president of the American Sociological Association who served for four years on the National Advisory Council to the National Human Genome Research Institute, kicks off the University of Dayton's 2005-2006 Diversity Lecture Series with a pair of public lectures on Aug. 25-26.

Duster will address, "A Post-Genomic Surprise: The Increasing Significance of Race in Debates and Practical Applications of Human Molecular Genetics," at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 25, in the Science Center Auditorium.

He switches gears the next day and talks to faculty about "The Stratification of Cultures as a Barrier to Democratic Pluralism" at 3 p.m. in the Sears Recital Hall in the Jesse Philips Humanities Center.

The first talk will explore the social and political implications of a controversial debate about the role of race in biological sciences and in clinical applications and also whether it's possible to determine race from DNA. Scientists working on the Human Genome Project -- an international research effort to sequence and map all of the genes -- agreed that racial categories mean nothing at the DNA level. Other researchers, aided by supercomputers and the capacity to do genetic profiles of at least 3 million points of difference between any two individuals at the DNA level, disagreed.

"In medicine, the new field of pharmacogenomics is attempting to fine tune the delivery of drugs to specific populations based upon DNA profiles -- ethnicity and race primary among them. In law, forensic science is moving ahead to use genetic markers to predict whether a criminal suspect is from a particular ethnic or racial group," said Duster, who recently co-authored Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society.

In June, the Federal Drug Administration approved the first race-based drug, BiDil, manufactured to treat African Americans with heart disease. "This development with BiDil is
a foot in the door -- the first step of what could be seen as racialized medicine," Duster told The Washington Post. "Race is too crude a measure. We should be looking at the individual and his and her biochemical makeup -- not whether he or she is black or white."

In his talk to faculty on Aug. 26, Duster will explore new scholarship "that has attempted to redress the historical imbalance in the attention paid" to different racial and ethnic groups and discuss its implications for curricular development.

"He will be provocative," said Mary Morton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "He's a nationally recognized scholar and writer who's very dynamic and engaging."

Duster is currently a professor of sociology at New York University who also holds the appointment of chancellor's professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Legislation of Morality: Law, Drugs and Moral Judgment, Backdoor to Eugenics and Cultural Perspectives on Biological Knowledge.

The Diversity Lecture Series -- part of a larger strategic plan to foster inclusion and diversity on campus and prepare students, faculty, staff and the Dayton community for success in a global society -- is sponsored by the offices of the president and provost. Duster's talks are co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the department of sociology, anthropology and social work.

Contact Teri Rizvi at (937) 229-3241 or rizvi@udayton.edu.