[This image is a screen shot from the Genographic Project’s website]
From an article in the New Scientist, I found out about National Geographic’s endeavour to chart the migratory history of humans. It’s called ‘The Genographic Project
’ and it involves collecting DNA samples from a vast array of humans (especially indigenous and traditional people) and using sophisticated laboratory and computer
analysis to establish the migratory history of as many human beings on this planet as possible. This unprecedented, mammoth, real-time research effort is lead by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells and his team involves renowned international scientists. As creditable and important this project in itself is, I was also very impressed with the website the project has created and maintained.
The ‘Atlas of human journey’ allows you to select an era (from 200,000 to 5000 BC, pre-historic period) and then gives the details of milestones of human migration and evolution in it. On the world map, various routes of human migration are shown which have been ascertained based on the Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA analysis. The ‘Globe of human history’ is a section spanning 5000 BC to 2000 AD, the era of recorded human history. A revolving Earth globe can be spun to a desired position and the historical milestones in that geographical region can be read about.
My most favourite and probably the most “information-studded” section of the website is the ‘Genetics overview’. It describes the ideology and methodology behind the DNA analysis and how it actually leads to finding out ones migratory history in a very easy-to-understand, graphics-aided manner. I will not go into too much detail of all the information it shares with the reader and those interested can visit the website if so inclined. But what I learned from this section was that while the Y-chromosome is passed down from father to son, the mitochondrial DNA is passed down from the mother to both son and daughter. Therefore, to track genetic lineage, Y-chromosome acts as the unique “tracking agent” in males whereas mitochondrial DNA serves the same purpose in females. Mutations are random changes in one’s DNA sequence that occur very rarely. But once it has occurred it is carried forward to following generations and therefore can act as “genetic markers” in backtracking the genetic lineage.
The field researchers involved in this project go out to various parts of the world and collect DNA samples from indigenous and traditional people as the main interest is in tracking their migration route out of Africa. However, the project welcomes and encourages general public to send in their DNA samples (which are just a couple of cheek-swabs inside your mouth) as the ultimate goal is to find out migration patterns and history of as many humans as possible. Males have a choice of getting a paternal (Y-chromosome) or a maternal (mitochondrial) DNA tracking done. Female’s DNA can only get them their maternal DNA tracking. But a male member from father’s side of family can send in their sample and that can determine the female’s paternal DNA lineage. For little over a 100 USD, you can find out where all did your ancestors wander before coming to your town where you were born! A REALLY good deal, I’d say. If you’re not convinced, have a look at the website and I’m sure you’ll be a convert. I’m going to get mine done and find out where I really come from. So when are you doing yours?