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The Genographic Project

written by: Rafael•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 11/28/2008

DNA holds the information of where we all come from; a route map that can be used to discover how we spread all over the planet. The Genographic Project aims to discover the patterns of human migration from the point our ancestors left Africa 60,000 years ago.

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    The Genographic Project is a genetic project aimed at discovering the patterns of human migration. This 5-year anthropological and genetics study involves analyzing the DNA composition of thousands of people around the world to elucidate the migratory patterns of humankind.

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    The Genographic Project

    The Genographic Project, led by geneticist Spencer Wells is a privately-funded project established between the National Geographic Society, the giant computer company IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation.

    There are 10 regional field offices around the world that collect DNA samples from indigenous populations. Also, the project allows anyone in the world to purchase a DNA self-testing kit (US$100) and send in a sample (buccal swab sample) for DNA analysis. The information obtained is placed on an internet accessible database where a person can consult (with a unique private code) the results. This reveals your ancestral history and the migratory route taken that ends up with you living where you are now.

    There is also an option for you to contribute your DNA to the worldwide database. The information that is in the public domain will be published in scientific peer-reviewed journals once the project is complete

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    Genetic Basis of the Genographic Project

    Human DNA is transferred from parents to child in a shuffled, recombined form - a mixture of maternal and paternal DNA. That makes it difficult to study lines of descent when there are no fixed markers, as everything is jumbled about. However, some parts of the genome come through the generations relatively unscathed. Within these 'unscathed' regions there are occasional variations, random spelling mistakes in the DNA sequence. They don't happen often and as such become fixed in time - the same mutation will pass down the centuries. These are markers of descent and are used to pinpoint population movements. By following these markers throughout the world it is possible to establish the patterns of human migration.

    More specifically, the genetic markers on mitochondrial DNA (HVR1 & 2) and Y-chromosomes (several microsatellite markers and haplogroup-defining SNPs) are used to trace and follow people’s ancestry and genetic history.

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    How Did I Get Here?

    The scientific consensus is that around 60,000 years ago a group of African ancestors got itchy feet and began to migrate. Over time people spread out to all parts of the planet. The Genographic Projects aims to understand how they got there and the routes that were taken. As well as finding out where we all came from, the research will answer, for the individuals taking part, a fascinating question - "How did I get here?"