Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tracing our roots

Tracing our roots is a topic that interests almost everyone. Who were our earliest ancestors? Where did they come from? All these are fascinating questions that most of us would definitely be interested in knowing answers to.

A step in this direction is the Genographic Project, combined work of National Geographic and IBM. The project started in 2005 as a five-year project however research work will continue through 2011. The project aims to collect and analyze DNA samples voluntarily contributed by hundreds of thousands of people including indigenous and traditional populations and the general public making it unique in terms of scale. The project aims to answer the age old question - Who are we and where did we come from? The research will be based on DNA as it contains key genetic markers that have remained relatively unaltered over hundreds of generations, thus making genetic histories reliable indicators of ancient migratory patterns.

The project is different from other related projects like Human Genome Diversity Project especially in terms of objectives, approach, and methodology. This is non-profit, non-medical research and non-political. All the information learned from the project will be released in the global public domain and no patents will be filed.

Even though complete analysis of the data collected during the study will take atleast a few years after its completion this year some interesting facts are already emerging. One such report was released earlier this month confirmed that African populations are the most diverse on Earth and the diversity of lineage outside Africa is part of the subcontinent. The study finds early humans migrated from Africa via the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in Arabia into India and then heading north and into Eurasia, see the adjoining map.

One research studied the human remains found at one of the earliest farming sites in Germany inhabited 5500-5000 BC. The study revealed that the earliest farmers were populations from the Near East that migrated, rather than the early Stone Age hunters-gatherers who preexisted in that area.

Another research found that the Phoenicians who gave the world the alphabet and a love of the color purple left some people their genes as well, contrary to the belief that they completely vanished around 2nd century BC. The study found that as many as one in 17 men in the Mediterranean basin may have a Phoenician as a direct male-line ancestor.

More research findings can be tracked at the Genographics Project Updates page including the lineage of Charles Darwin, the man who wrote "Origin of Species".

Since the project has been using voluntarily obtained DNA samples from various people there is a Public Participation Kits that one can buy to participate. The identity will remain anonymous and one will be able to see the results online. The kit that is mailed includes two cheek scrapers and two vials as well as a self-addressed envelope to return your sample. The results of the genetic sample will be available in approximately 6 to 8 weeks upon the availability of your sample.

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