When Krystal Tsosie introduces her genomics students to the concept of biocommercialism — the extraction of biological resources from Indigenous communities without benefit — she always uses the same example: the Human Genome Diversity Project.
The researchers who conceived of the project in the 1990s aimed to collect samples from human populations around the world, with particular emphasis on what they deemed “vanishing” Indigenous populations. “A lot of that information is now publicly available to advance the course of science,” said Ms. Tsosie, a genetics researcher at Vanderbilt University and a member of the Navajo Nation. “But who accesses these data sets?”
Ms. Tsosie, answering her own question, cited as examples Ancestry and 23andMe, two companies that commercialize and profit from Indigenous genomic data sourced without consent from people in Central and South America. In 2018, GlaxoSmithKline invested $300 million in 23andMe and paid for a four-year partnership enabling it to use 23andMe’s database of digital sequence information. In 2020, 23andMe licensed a drug compound it developed from its trove of consensually sourced genetic information.
Accordingly, Ms. Tsosie... see more