On engagement with anthropology: A critical evaluation of skeletal and developmental abnormalities in the Atacama preterm baby and issues of forensic and bioarchaeological research ethics. Response to Bhattacharya et al. “Whole-genome sequencing of Atacama skeleton shows novel mutations linked with dysplasia” in Genome Research, 2018, 28: 423-431. Doi: 10.1101/gr.223693.117
OPEN International journal of paleopathology | 20 Jul 2018
SE Halcrow, K Killgrove, G Robbins Schug, M Knapp, D Huffer, B Arriaza, W Jungers and J Gunter
Here we evaluate Bhattacharya et al.’s (2018) recent paper “Whole-genome sequencing of Atacama skeleton shows novel mutations linked with dysplasia” published in Genome Research. In this short report, we examine the hypothesis that the so-called “Atacama skeleton” has skeletal abnormalities indicative of dysplasia, critique the validity of the interpretations of disease based on genomic analyses, and comment on the ethics of research on this partially mummified human foetus. The current paper acts as a case study of the importance of using an anthropological approach for aDNA research on human remains. A critical evaluation of the ethically controversial paper by Bhattacharya et al. highlights how an understanding of skeletal biological processes, including normal and abnormal growth and development, taphonomic processes, environmental context, and close attention to ethical issues of dealing with human remains, is vital to scientific interpretations. To this end, close collaboration with palaeopathologists and local archaeologists through appropriate peer-reviewed journals will add to the rigour of scientific interpretation and circumvent misinterpretation.
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