First published June 1, 2005 - More info
On April 13, the National Geographic Society launched the Genographic Project. The $40 million project is a 5-year effort to map the migration of humans from Africa to the regions inhabited now.
Anthropological geneticist Spencer Wells, known for his hypothesis that all humans descended from a single African ancestor who lived 60,000 years ago, heads the project team. To uncover the paths that lead from this African “Adam” to every living human, the team will study genetic material from more than 100,000 samples, taken from indigenous people and the general public all over the world. “This project will show us some of the routes early humans followed to populate the globe and paint a picture of the genetic tapestry that connects us all,” Wells said.
Ten research centers will collect and analyze DNA from both parental lineages of each subject by taking samples from the paternally inherited Y chromosome and maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA. Random natural mutations, called markers, are passed on through generations more or less unchanged, which allows scientists to trace how people are related. Once a marker appears in a person, all of that person’s descendants will carry it, said Wells. After a marker is identified, geneticists will use computer algorithms to trace the mutations back to their first occurrence, allowing experts to uncover early migratory patterns.
The data are expected to constitute the largest collection of human population genetic information. “We’re trying to figure out where we came from. It’s a very simple human question,” said Wells.