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DNA strand on grey background

Yves Moreau thought something was amiss when he came across a genetics paper about Tibetans in China. In the 2022 report in PLoS ONE, a team of researchers had collected blood samples from hundreds of people in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and recorded genetic markers on their X chromosomes. The researchers concluded that this analysis was useful for forensic identification and paternity testing1.

The paper raised immediate red flags for Moreau. Over the past half-decade Moreau, who is a computational geneticist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, has become deeply concerned about the ethics of studies that report the collection of biometric data from vulnerable or oppressed groups of people2.

n this case, he worried that Chinese security forces might have been involved in the work. One concern was that the blood was collected by being blotted onto reference cards — a method of choice for police forces. Moreover, in 2022, the international advocacy organization Human Rights Watch, among others, had reported that a mass DNA-collection programme of Tibetan populations was...