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Population history and research ethics in Kenya

Project Title: Evaluating community perceptions and ethical considerations in genetics research in small scale populations

Funded by NIH R21HG012250 (2022-2024), PI Stone with Co-PIs Sarah Mathew, Jason Robert, and Melissa Wilson (ASU) and with Collaborators Mercy Akinyi and Joseph Kamau (Institute of Primate Research) and Carla Handley (ASU).


Our research addresses how Western ethical practices used in genetic studies accurately align with the understandings, attitudes, and perceptions of the Turkana, Borana, Rendille, and Samburu pastoral populations of Northern Kenya. In particular, we are interviewing and synthesizing the perceptions, attitudes, and expectations of genetic research participants about dissemination practices, genetics and genetic research, and data management, which will serve to establish general and population specific consent and governance models for research. While such perspectives have been collected extensively in Western contexts from both indigenous and non-indigenous individuals, only limited data are available from African contexts.


Learning about DNA (ASU VisLab blog on the creation of dissemination posters about the previous genetic research results). (link to 

Genetic variation and population history in Northwestern Kenya (PI Melissa Wilson, with Sarah Mathew, Carla Handley, and Anne Stone, Co-PIs)  

The aim of this study was to characterize the genetic relationships within and among four neighboring ethnolinguistic groups (Turkana, Borana, Rendille and Samburu) in northern Kenya in light of cultural relationships to understand the extent to which geography and culture shape patterns of genetic variation. We collected genetic and cultural/demographic data from 572 individuals across clans and (in Turkana) across three territorial sections. We obtained genotype data from 376 individuals and found that geography is the major factor affecting patterns of genetic variation within and among groups. We found that Y chromosome haplotypes do not cluster consistently by natal clan affiliation within groups. The demographic data show relatively higher rates of intermarriage between the Rendille and Samburu, and this is reflected in the genetic data (through evidence of greater gene flow). Among Turkana, we note strong recent genetic substructuring based on territorial section affiliation. Finally, we found that sampled populations that are geographically closer have lower genetic differentiation, and that cultural similarity does not predict genetic similarity as a whole across these northern Kenyan populations. These results were published in Taravella Oill et al. (2022)