"Dame dame dame, que te voy a dar ... una guayabita de mi guayabal."


Brazilian indigenous people's genetic code sold without their consent

As the Karitiana Indians remember it, the first researchers to draw their blood came here in the late 1970s, shortly after the Amazon tribe began sustained contact with the outside world. In 1996, another team visited, promising medicine if the Karitiana would just give more blood, so they dutifully lined up again.

But that promise was never fulfilled, and since then the world has expanded again for the Karitiana through the arrival of the Internet. Now they have been enraged by a simple discovery: their blood and DNA collected during that first visit are being sold by an American concern to scientists around the world for $85 a sample. They want the practice stopped, and are demanding compensation for what they describe as the violation of their personal integrity.

But Francisco M. Salzano, one of Brazil’s leading geneticists, with more than 40 years of experience in the Amazon and dealing with indigenous peoples, argues that it is acceptable to brush aside such concerns. “If it depended on religion and belief, we would still be in the Stone Age,” he said in a telephone interview from his office at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. “None of these samples have been used in an unethical manner,” Dr. Salzano added. As for the question of informed consent, he added, “That is always relative.”


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