Genographic Project

Mapping the Origins of Human Migration

The Genographic Project is a collaborative project with The National Geographic Society, IBM, and the Waitt Family Foundation being the principal backers. The purpose is to establish what the routes were by which humans populated the planet.

As you've probably noticed, we humans can be found pretty much anywere you look--for better or worse--but at some point in time we were in just one place. So, how did we get from that one place to being a plague on the planet everywhere?

This project, initially funded with $40 million(US) of private funds, takes buccal samples (swab of cheek cells) from indigenous populations worldwide. The project started in April 2005 and is slated to finish in 2010. Unique to this project is the ability for private individuals to add their buccal samples to the database albeit at a cost of $100(US).

These collected cheek cells will be processed which involves DNA extraction, amplification, sequencing, and bioinformatics mapping. With this developing database of DNA information, researchers will be able to trace mutations which will indicate the time and location of population movements. Pretty neat.

This sort of research has only been possible very recently. DNA/RNA amplification has been around for a few decades since Kary Mullis invented the PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) technique in 1983--and received a Nobel Prize for it in 1993 but the means to analyze huge amounts of DNA has only recently arrived. The development in the past decade of DNA Microarrays has enabled scientists to analyze thousands of genes quickly to determine which genes have been up or down regulated. The development of Real Time PCR has also given us an ability to quantify amplified product of the PCR process which allows for quick confirmation of genes found by Microarray. All of these techniques are what I do in my lab. I use them to compare patients treated with drugs for cancer and normal samples with no chemotherapy--and see which genes have been altered. The Genographic Project does much the same thing but they're analyzing changes over 60,000 years whereas I am only concerned with what's happening right now.

The actual method to analyze human population movement is to track changes to the DNA in the Y-chromosone (for paternal lines) and the mitochondria (for maternal inheiritance). The DNA from each of these is only inheirited from one parent so any mutations in the DNA will only appear in the progeny. These mutations are referred to as SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphism) and that just means that one of the nucleotides that the DNA codes for has been changed.

By looking at the DNA of individuals around the world, it's possible to cluster everyone into "families" that share the same mutations. Since these SNPs don't happen often, anyone sharing one has descended from a common ancestor.

As for spending the $100 to check out the migratory pattern of your ancestors, I can't recommend it. At this point in time I just don't see the generated information as being that specific. And no doubt it'll be free and much better documented in another 5 years or so.


Very Very Interesting, Dave...
There was a wonderful PBS Mini by Louis Gates where part of what they were doing was tracking the roots of 6 or so recognozeable people of color with this method to see where their "roots" was not only fascinating but very moving, too...I don't know that it was the exact DNA Test you are talking about---there were a couple of tests done---but close enough that what you are writing about today was a little familiar to me...

Here from Michele today!
Faira said…
that would be sort of cool. but 100 bucks to hear that my folks are irish.... nah.
srp said…
Here from Michele.

I have been on the utilization side of PCR in diagnosis of disease but not the pure science side. It is absolutely amazing and if we can attach chemotherapy agents to antibodies to the broken DNA of tumors, just think what progress could be made.

My ex-husband has his Phd in Physics, lasars.... has done work on building the better killing lasar and defense against them. Very hush, hush. This DNA work would have been more worthwhile... or am I just biased.
kenju said…
Back in 1965-6 I worked at a hospital in the Cytotechnology Lab. A doc at my hosp. was starting genetic research and we thought it was SO high-tech and futuristic. I can't help but wonder what he would think of the advances today - were he still alive.

If that test was free, I would sign up in a heartbeat. But for $100, I think I'll wait until the information can be somewhat more detailed. Heady stuff, though, and the possibbilities are mind-boggling!

Michele sent me this time.
Claire said…
Wow, very interesting post!
Catherine said…
The problem is that they can only track ancestry through the Y chromosome (no use to us females) or through the mitochondrial DNA - female line all the way - so my DNA is of no use in determining where my father's ancestors originated. Or my mother's father's ancestors. Or any of the many other family lines I'm interested in. We're all a mix of so many different ancestors, that I feel the information offered by the tests is a bit limited.
Michele sent me
Thumper said…
That's a cool idea. I dunno about $100, but it is tempting for those of us who can't trace our roots past our great grandparents...

here via Michele's this time!
Uisce said…
I'm utterly fascinated by this whole thing, and I'm just waiting for mom to pony up the bucks for it, since she's the one nagging me to participate.

Here's a weird twist to the project, though... I know this family, they have three grown sons and what if they all participate? They're going to see some weird results, because one of them was conceived by another man, i.e. during an extramarital affair. I don't want to be sitting there in that kitchen when they get to discussing the results! :/
sassyassy said…
But can the cheek swab tell me my great-grandmother's maiden name? Thanks for the education.
Nikki-ann said…
Interesting. Mind you, as you said, I'd wait 5 years, it's amazing how things can progress that that time-span.

Here from Michelle's. I hope you've had a good weekend. Take care :)
toygirl said…
I would spend the $100 only to confirm that I am from outer space.
Here from Michele.
Carmi said…
Damn, that's cool!

I learn something new every time I visit you.

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