This article originally stated that the Taíno were extinct, which is incorrect. Nature apologizes for the offence caused, and has corrected the text to better explain the research project described.
This is, of course, nonsense. How timorous has the modern scientific culture become, that it is willing to acquiesce so easily, lest one be perceived as not having sufficient "sensitivity" in matters ethnic?
When we say that the Taíno are extinct, we are, in fact claiming that a population group is extinct. We do not say that pieces of DNA are extinct, or that words in a language are extinct. There are pieces of Taíno DNA in modern Puerto Ricans, and there are Taíno words in the Spanish spoken there. But the Taíno group is extinct.
For example, you will not found any aurochsen (Bos primigenius) in Europe today, even though they did pass on some of their genes to modern European cattle. The aurochsen are extinct, even though some of their genes persist. You can say that modern European cattle are just Bos taurus influenced by Bos primigenius in Europe, but you can't say that B. primigenius is in existence today.
Similarly, there are Etruscan words and genes floating around in Europe today, but there are no longer any Etruscans. The Etruscans are extinct. There were, there are not => they are extinct.
A group is defined by a set of common genetic (and, in some animals, cultural) features. The survival of a few of these features is not the same as the survival of the group. The fact that some modern humans have preserved bits of Neandertal immunogenetics does not reverse the fact of Neandertal extinction, because Neandertals were not reducible to bits of their immune systems.
It is well-known that Egyptian pyramids have been used for building materials since the demise of ancient Egyptian civilization. If the building blocks of the pyramids had all found themselves in Cairo buildings, we would be justified in saying that "the pyramids are gone", because the arrangement of parts called "pyramids" was no longer in existence, even though their parts remain.
It is somewhat ironic that the same crowd of "ethnically sensitive" people can simultaneously propose that differences between races and ethnic groups have no biological basis, and, at the same time, affirm the non-extinction of an ethnic group precisely on account of its having preserved a few bits of distinctive DNA.
Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that five hundred years into the future, there is a United Europe, with English as its common language. Further suppose, that in a province of that United Europe, say Finland, the population's gene pool is composed of 10% current Finnish DNA and 90% other European/non-European DNA. Would we be justified in saying that the Finns were extinct?
Bits of our DNA have reached us from the remotest depths of time, joined, more recently, by bits of our culture. They aggregate, for a time, into distinctive biocultural packages, such as the Taíno, they are transformed, and then they are dissolved: some dying out, some latching onto new units. The Taíno are extinct, but parts of them remain.