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DIgital illustration of dna in vials of different colors.

Late last year, Justina Crawford decided to swab the inside of her mouth for a saliva sample to do a DNA test.

Ms. Crawford, a 30-year-old working in Boston who is African-American, had never done a DNA test before because she worried about who would have access to her genetic information. But her growing curiosity about her family history led her to set her reservations aside. “I want to know my roots,” she said, and purchased a kit from African Ancestry Inc., a DNA testing company.

Scientists and private genetic testing companies are making a push to enroll more African-Americans in genetic research and databases. As the popularity and wider availability of genetic testing grows, so have calls from the scientific community about the need for genetic diversity in future research. In the past, genomic research was predominantly skewed to people of European ancestry. As a result, African-Americans—as well as people of different demographic backgrounds—weren’t well represented in some important health research.

But before they sign up, many African-Americans have to overcome concern about potential misuse of DNA results and...

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