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Populations as brands in medical research: placing genes on the global genetic atlas

Abstract

The collection, use, and distribution of human tissue samples have stressed the new pathways in which human body parts and related information are becoming productive. This article probes the question of how the concept of branding can elucidate the way historico-cultural narratives of origin and authenticity are coming to play an increasingly important role in leveraging populations as new types of scientific products. Using the notions of heritage and identity, geolocation, and scientific recognition, I argue that the branding of populations represents, not just novel ways of creating difference, but also provides new ways in which master narratives of population history are created. The processes by which genetic specificities of various populations and their concomitant samples are made productive vary, yet illustrate how narratives of genetics, national identity, group identity, and uniqueness in the medical sciences become intertwined with notions of productivity and bioeconomic potential.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The media and public discussion following the publication of the research is not elaborated here since it requires a much deeper analysis and discussion, which goes beyond the remit of this article.

  2. 2.

    Reijo Norio is Finland’s foremost expert on rare diseases. He has held a unique position as a doctor in the Family Federation of Finland, which has provided genetic counseling to many of the families who have rare diseases. In this sense his work as a counselor also provided him with a unique opportunity to meet and come across new families who were carriers of various conditions.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Global Genes, Local Concerns project funded by the University of Copenhagen’s 2016 Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary Research, as well as the Academy of Finland. I am grateful to Klaus Hoeyer and three anonymous referees for the helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper.

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Tupasela, A. Populations as brands in medical research: placing genes on the global genetic atlas. BioSocieties 12, 47–65 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-016-0029-9

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Keywords

  • branding
  • population genetics
  • bio-economy
  • medical research
  • biobanks
  • classification
  • Finnish Disease Heritage