Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday released an analysis of her DNA indicating that she has a Native American ancestor, likely between six and 10 generations back in her family history following pressure from Trump’s administration.
President Trump has mocked Warren’s claims of Native American ancestry, often calling her Pocahontas.
Warren’s attempt to rebut the long-ridiculed claim, which was accompanied by a slickly produced television ad, appeared to be a move calculated to clear the way for a 2020 presidential bid.
But it may backfire by adding confusion and controversy.
According to the results released by the genetics researcher Carlos Bustamante of Stanford University, there is “strong evidence” that Warren has Native American pedigree “6-10 generations ago.”
Bustamante compared the results to reference samples and reported that he had found a Native American ancestor “approximately 8 generations” ago.
Bustamante, however, didn’t compare Warren’s DNA against Native Americans who live in the continental U.S., citing cultural reluctance to submit to DNA tests.
Instead, he used recent samples from other countries whose populations presumably share a lineage during human settlement of the Americas about 15,000-25,000 years ago.
The new analysis appeared to be scientifically rigorous, researchers said, but it cannot give someone a cultural identity as Native American.
Some genealogical researchers point to limitations in both science and social meaning of the test results, which seem unlikely to prevent political attacks that Warren falsely claimed to be an ethnic minority to become a Harvard University professor.
Academic skeptics point out the murky nature of DNA reference samples, and others argue that even if Warren has a native ancestor, that doesn’t make her an American Indian in a cultural or political sense, or validate past claims of Cherokee ancestry.
Bustamante used DNA reference samples from the 1000 Genomes Project, an international effort that recorded samples from people around the world.
He wrote that the strongest proof of indigenous ancestry could be found along Chromosome 10.
Warren’s sample was compared against 37-person reference groups from Nigeria, China, Latin America, and Europe, and then contrasted against larger samples of white British and predominately European-descended Utahans.
Overall, Bustamante found her DNA to be roughly 95 percent European.
“How accurate are these? There’s no validation test,” said Tufts University professor Sheldon Krimsky, who studies ancestry research, Washington Post reported. “There are methods of doing it, I suppose. You would have to get, for example, independent evidence of someone’s ancestry from records or their own information from families.”
Krimsky said he wants to know more about the error rate of sequencing, and expressed concern about Bustamante’s links to paid ancestry services.
Bustamante worked from 2011-2017 as a scientific adviser to the company 23andMe and since 2011 has advised Ancestry.com, according to his CV.
“It’s a little conflict of interest if the scientist has been consulting,” Krimsky said. “The scientist rather than emphasizing the uncertainties would more likely discuss the probability that it’s correct.”
The Native American data used for the Warren analysis appears to come from 37 Latin American people determined by PCA to have indigenous ancestry, though 12 appear to be admixed, said Paul Flicek, senior scientist and team leader for vertebrate genomics at the European Bioinformatics Institute.
“My assumption is that these 37 were the individuals who clearly had Native American DNA in this region,” Flicek said.
Biostatistician Jay Kaufman of McGill University in Canada said that many “white” Americans may be much more Native American than Warren: “It is worth perhaps asking the question: how many Americans who self-identify as ‘white’ have similar or larger proportions of non-European ancestry?” he wandered.
Ancestry testing is a significant business in the U.S., boosted by television commercials hawking surprise results exploding assumptions about family histories.
After making Warren made a DNA results public, Trump hit back on her Tuesday morning, mocking the DNA results and calling her statements about her Indian heritage “a scam and a lie.”
The video Ms. Warren released features footage from earlier this year in which Mr. Trump vowed to contribute $1 million to her favorite charity if she took a DNA test and it showed she had Native American roots, New York Times reported.
“Who cares, who cares?” Mr. Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Monday morning after being asked whether he would fulfill his promise to make a donation to charity.
Then he denied having made such a vow, saying: “I didn’t say that. You better read it again.”
Yet even as she sought to defuse the issue, Ms. Warren was criticized on both the right and the left Monday.
Conservatives mocked her for releasing a test that indicated she is anywhere between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American.
“Elizabeth Warren hasn’t dealt with a problem, she has highlighted it and opened up other avenues for attack,” wrote the editor of the conservative National Review, Rich Lowry, on Twitter. “For Trump, 1/1024th will be priceless material.”
And liberals, as well as conservatives, said Warren had still not adequately addressed why she changed her ethnic identity from white to Native American as a law professor in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
President Trump at the White House Monday denied that he needed to keep a pledge to donate $1 million to a charity of Warren’s choosing if a DNA test proved her Native American heritage.
And Cherokee Nation, which is based in Oklahoma, also criticized Warren, saying in a statement she was “undermining tribal interests” by claiming Native American heritage. (Ms. Warren, responding to the criticism, said “DNA and family history has nothing to do with tribal affiliation or citizenship, which is determined only — only — by Tribal Nations,” adding: “I respect the distinction, & don’t list myself as Native in the Senate.”)
Analysts across the political spectrum wondered why she would take this step now instead of waiting until after the midterm elections.
Warren provided a sample of her DNA in August and she received the report back last week.
An aide said she wanted to release it as soon as possible.
But releasing the DNA results are only the latest step of a monthslong effort by Warren, who is facing re-election next month, to prepare for a 2020 presidential bid and to inoculate herself against attacks from both Democrats and Republicans.