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Biotechnology

DNA test shows Elizabeth Warren probably had a Native American ancestor generations ago

October 15, 2018

President Donald Trump calls her a fake “Pocahontas.” But genetic analysis finds that US Senator Elizabeth Warren does have Native American DNA, the Boston Globe reports.

What happened: Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, sent her DNA anonymously to the Stanford University laboratory of Carlos Bustamente, a well-known specialist in genetic ancestry. (You can read a new Q&A with Bustamente here, published today in MIT Technology Review.)

The test: Warren’s ancestry was analyzed on a “chip” that looked at 764,958 sites where people’s DNA letters commonly differ. This is the same technology used in commercial direct-to-consumer ancestry tests, like that from Ancestry.com.

What they found: According to a summary of the lab’s findings, Warren’s genome is more than 95% European. But she does have five segments in her DNA that look Native American. The largest spans about 4,700,000 DNA letters. While that is less than 1/1,000th of her DNA, it was enough for Bustamante to conclude with confidence she probably has a Native American ancestor about six to 10 generations ago, according to an executive summary of the findings.

Now what: On July 5, during a political rally in Montana, Trump dared Warren to submit to a DNA test and offered a bet, according to the Washington Post: “I will give you a million dollars, paid for by Trump, to your favorite charity, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.”

Should Trump pay up? It probably depends on what he meant by being “an Indian.” You can read more about what geneticists think about race in the Q&A. In any case, he has already said he won't pay. 

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