1022-7954/01/3708- $25.00 © 2001
Russian Journal of Genetics, Vol. 37, No. 8, 2001, pp. 853–867. Translated from Genetika, Vol. 37, No. 8, 2001, pp. 1029–1045.
Original Russian Text Copyright © 2001 by Tetushkin.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, due to
advances in genetics, the concept of human races has
been regarded as not scientiﬁcally valid. As Tishkov
aptly pointed out, “American scientiﬁc community suc-
cessfully initiated the rejection of the notion of race as
a scientiﬁc category” .At present, at least in genetic
literature, this term is typically used in quotation marks.
At the same time, there is a special ﬁeld, race science,
devoted to investigation of human races. This is a major
part of physical anthropology, which has long traditions
and ample accumulated material. It appeared that this
ﬁeld has been losing its subject matter and thus was
destined to disappear.
This situation seemed disturbing to Russian anthro-
pologists. They responded (with a 20-year delay since
the ideas rejecting the race concept have been actively
circulating since the 1970s) by organizing in 1998 the
First International Conference “Race: Myth or Real-
ity”, which was held under the auspices of the Russian
Section of the European Anthropological Association
. In addition to Russian researchers, the conference
hosted representatives of Belarus, Italy, Latvia, Mongolia,
Poland, and Estonia. The resolution adopted at the confer-
ence stated that the existence of races “is conﬁrmed by evi-
dence obtained at the population, organismal, and molec-
ular levels of investigation of humans” .
Why then the most inﬂuential population and
molecular geneticists involved in this problem deny the
existence of races? The conference organizers believe
that “some foreign scientiﬁc schools…rejected the race
concept…because of the political situation” .
To be sure, in the developed countries political cor-
rectness in fact has an impact on various ﬁelds of activ-
ity including science. However, the refutation of the
race concept is based on speciﬁc population-genetic
arguments that absolutely lack political implications.
Moreover, race statistics has been conducted in the
United States until the present , which is at variance
with the “political” explanation of the “negative atti-
tude toward the race science” . The conclusion on
the absence of races is based on scientiﬁc facts rather
than externally imposed. The existence of the ofﬁcial
race statistics testiﬁes to the fact that the general com-
munity is not ready to accept this bold conclusion.
Surprisingly, the quoted resolution does not cite any
of the arguments against the race concept. In view of
the aims of the conference, it would seem logical to
present these arguments and try to invalidate them.
Without this, the position of race science’s supporters
Genetics and the Origin of Human “Races”
E. Ya. Tetushkin
Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 119991 Russia; e-mail: email@example.com
Received February 7, 2001
—In the last decades, the concept of human races was considered scientiﬁcally unfounded as it was
not conﬁrmed by genetic evidence. None of the racial classiﬁcations, which strongly differ in the number of
races and their composition, reﬂects actual genetic similarity and genealogy of human populations inferred
from variability of classical markers and DNA regions. Moreover, intercontinental (“interracial”) variability
was shown to be far lower than that within populations: the former constitutes 7 to 10% of the total genetic vari-
ation and the latter about 85% of it. It is believed that the low level of differentiation of regional population
groups contradicts their race status and suggests a recent origin of humans from one ancestral population. The
results of studies of various genetic systems are in agreement with the latter conclusion rejecting the hypothesis
of regional continuity. According to this hypothesis, the populations of continents regarded as large races have
developed during long evolution from local types of archaic humans, in particular, Neanderthals. Phenotypic
similarity of different, sometimes unrelated, populations united into one “race” is explained by strong selection
since race-diagnostic traits characterize body surface and thus are directly subjected to the inﬂuence of envi-
ronmental (primarily climatic) factors. It has been recently established that variability of the most important of
these traits, body and hair pigmentation, is largely controlled by one locus (
), which accounts for its high
evolutionary lability. Other traits used for race identiﬁcation are also likely to be labile and controlled by major
genes. However, the fact that the currently existing race classiﬁcations are groundless does not mean that such
classiﬁcations are impossible in principle. Commonly used argumentation (races do not exist because popula-
tions are not genetically separated) does not hold water. A polytypic species is characterized by genetic conti-
nuity of allopatric populations rather than the presence of narrow genetic boundaries between them. Borderlines
between races are usually conventional and arbitrary. As to intergroup variation in humans, it is indeed low but
comparable with that in a number of other species. There are no obstacles to the development of genetic sys-
tematics of human races.