Front Genet 2016 17;7:22. Epub 2016 Feb 17.
Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH, USA.
The biological status and biomedical significance of the concept of race as applied to humans continue to be contentious issues despite the use of advanced statistical and clustering methods to determine continental ancestry. It is thus imperative for researchers to understand the limitations as well as potential uses of the concept of race in biology and biomedicine. This paper deals with the theoretical assumptions behind cluster analysis in human population genomics. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, it demonstrates that the hypothesis that attributes the clustering of human populations to "frictional" effects of landform barriers at continental boundaries is empirically incoherent. It then contrasts the scientific status of the "cluster" and "cline" constructs in human population genomics, and shows how cluster may be instrumentally produced. It also shows how statistical values of race vindicate Darwin's argument that race is evolutionarily meaningless. Finally, the paper explains why, due to spatiotemporal parameters, evolutionary forces, and socio-cultural factors influencing population structure, continental ancestry may be pragmatically relevant to global and public health genomics. Overall, this work demonstrates that, from a biological systematic and evolutionary taxonomical perspective, human races/continental groups or clusters have no natural meaning or objective biological reality. In fact, the utility of racial categorizations in research and in clinics can be explained by spatiotemporal parameters, socio-cultural factors, and evolutionary forces affecting disease causation and treatment response.