Article ID: CBB197700782

Normalization and the Search for Variation in the Human Genome (2020)


This essay reflects on the tension between standardization and the search for variation in the human genome. The stabilization of the human chromosome count in the 1920s was based on the consensus that “Whites,” “Negroes,” and “Japanese,” as well as women and men, had the same number of chromosomes. Yet the idea that there might be chromosomal differences between various groups of people was never quite abandoned. When in the mid-1950s the human chromosome number was revised from 48 to 46, the new count was tested in populations around the world. The description of the “normal human karyotype” that was negotiated in the 1960s was driven by the search for a standard against which the genetic variation revealed by the flurry of testing could be measured. And although the human genome project in the 1990s promised to provide the genetic blueprint that all humans shared, it has in fact led to an increased focus on the genetic variation that distinguishes the history, identity, and health outcomes of various human populations. Following concrete examples, this essay investigates the historically contingent quests that have been driving the search for common standards and variation, and the role Pacific and Indigenous populations have played in these endeavors.This essay is part of a special issue entitled Pacific Biologies: How Humans Become Genetic, edited by Warwick Anderson and M. Susan Lindee.

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Authors & Contributors
TallBear, Kimberly
Reardon, Jenny
Lowe, James W. E.
Nielsen, Rasmus
Edge, Michael D.
Kent, Michael
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Social Studies of Science
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
Science as Culture
University of Minnesota Press
MIT Press
Duke University Press
University of Pennsylvania
Science and race
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Human genetics
Variation (biology)
Wilson, Edmund Beecher
Foucault, Michel
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
United States
Colorado River (North America)
New Guinea
Hawaii (U.S.)
World Health Organization (WHO)

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