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The Complicated Relationship Between Genes And Genealogy

In this episode of Sparks, FiveThirtyEight’s monthly science podcast that runs in the What’s The Point feed, the science team discusses DNA and genetic genealogy through the lens of Alondra Nelson’s book “The Social Life of DNA: Race, reparations, and reconciliation after the genome.” Nelson examines the experiences of African-American “root-seekers,” who explore their heritage and forge new connections through genetics, and discusses how genetics could fit into the legal argument for reparations for slavery.

Kim TallBear, an associate professor of Native studies at the University of Alberta and author of the book “Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science,” joined senior science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker and senior editor Blythe Terrell in the podcast. They talked about how different groups of people interact with DNA testing and their cultural and genetic roots.

For the second part of the podcast, Maggie interviewed Nelson. Listen to that audio below:


And if you want to read along with the science team ahead of next month’s podcast, we’re tackling “The Hunt for Vulcan” by Thomas Levenson.

Blythe Terrell is a former senior editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Maggie Koerth was a senior reporter for FiveThirtyEight.