301.2 Deconstructing and reifying “Asian” and ethnicities in Asia: Exploring HUGO pan-Asian SNP consortium's work

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 12:45 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Shirley Hsiao-Li SUN , Sociology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore
Over the last decade, advances in work in human genomics in Asia have been rapid and expanding.  In 2009, the HUGO Pan-Asian SNP Consortium, an international research team led by Edison Liu of the Genome Institute of Singapore, mapped genetic variation and migration patterns in 73 Asian populations, with data coming from 11 Asian countries: Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and India. The main results – that “there is substantial genetic proximity of SEA [Southeast Asian] and EA [East Asian] populations – were published in Science (The Hugo Pan-Asian Consortium, 2009).  In other words, the publication highlighted genetic “similarity” among Asians.  In this paper, drawing on document analysis and in-depth personal interviews with key human geneticists in Singapore and in Japan who participate in the Hugo Pan-Asian Consortium, I explore the role of ethnicities in the HUGO Pan-Asian SNP Consortium’s genomic work at different stages.  Three findings are highlighted: (1) ethnicity was used as a proxy for genetic diversity in the DNA sampling, (2) ethnicity was significant in facilitating collaboration of labs between different nation-states in Asia, and (3) the "findings" of ethnic differences genetically potentially allows pharmaceutical companies to enter the markets of various nation-states in Asia.  This paper suggests the HUGO Pan-Asian SNP consortium’s work simultaneously undermines and reifies the biological bases of the social notions of race and ethnicity.