Written by CNN Staff
A fledgling species of ancient DNA may help scientists unravel some of life’s toughest mysteries. But the findings could be used in an unethical manner — and this is where a new ethical guidelines strategy comes in.
Dan Durda and Michael D’Andrea, scientists in South Africa, created The Stonehenge Project , an initiative that aims to forge “a new ethics framework to educate the public, the media and the scientific community on how they can use Ancient DNA evidence to solve unsolved modern-day murders and other crimes.”
The organizations argues that existing ethics procedures are too often poorly understood by the public and by researchers themselves. The answer, says The Stonehenge Project , lies in the implementation of a “non-exclusive use framework” — “based on ‘what is not done’ rather than the ‘what can be done.’”
The Stonehenge Project’s experts researched and devised the set of five goals that should guide researchers when using ancient DNA:
Read: Ancient DNA may offer important clues to our origins
It should help people understand how DNA can be used, and how its use can be ethically problematic and potentially harmful. It should apply equally to indigenous groups, scientific and non-scientific groups and individuals. It should be used in distinct parts of the scientific community, and in research areas related to race, nationality and ethnicity. It should be used at the initial stages of crime investigation, and not at its more extreme and sensitive conclusions. It should prevent its use in miscarriages of justice.
The group concludes by encouraging research teams to talk to victims’ families when using ancient DNA.
“While this is generally the best route to follow, there is the potential to engage in truly harmful behavior when using ancient DNA, such as libel, distortion or fabrication of evidence, deliberately misleading the public, stealing private property, establishing false genotypes, falsifying DNA profiles and ethnic groups, exploiting ancient DNA in research designed to push an agenda or discriminate against groups, and maliciously hunting and killing native North American artefacts or plants,” the guide’s authors said.