- Researchers are aiming to learn more about how
the Earth was populated by collecting and
analyzing genetic samples from 100,000 people
around the globe.
The five-year Genographic Project, being
announced Wednesday, will use sophisticated
laboratory and computer analysis of DNA to
figure out the patterns in which people moved
from one part of the world to another. It is
sponsored by the National Geographic Society and
"We're trying to figure out where we came
from. It's a very simple human question,"
said Spencer Wells, the project's director and a
population geneticist known for groundbreaking
work in this field.
Researchers plan to collect blood samples from
10,000 indigenous people — those whose
ancestors inhabited a land before Europeans or
other outsiders arrived — at each of 10 sites
around the world. Because indigenous people
trace their ancestors back to the same land over
considerable time, their DNA contains "key
genetic markers that have remained relatively
unaltered over hundreds of generations,"
project scientists said. That makes their
genetics reliable indicators of ancient
Most of the work that's been done so far has
been based on genetic data from about 10,000
people, Wells said. That has helped establish
that people came from Africa within the last
60,000 years, but little is known about what
migratory routes they followed off that
continent or what happened over the last 10,000
years, he said.
fingerprints help establish the patterns,
enabling scientists to trace variations in genes
to their origins, he said.
For instance, scientists are not sure how the
Americas were first populated, said Ajay Royyuru,
the lead scientist for IBM. The first people may
have come from Siberia and eastern Asia, or they
may have been Europeans migrating over a frozen
north Atlantic, he said. "The goal of the
project is to learn the journey that our
ancestors traveled and hopefully answer the
question of who we are and how we happened to be
where we are," he said.
The project is also inviting participation from
the general public, for a fee. People may buy a
kit for $99.95 (plus shipping and handling) that
will allow them to scrape the matter from the
inside of their cheeks and send it in. They will
receive information about their own migratory
history, and their data will be included in the
master database. Participants will receive
updates on the project and other materials as
All information in the master database will be
anonymous and researchers promise to keep
individual identities confidential. Wells said
he is not concerned that the database might be
skewed with samples from people who can afford
to pay nearly $100 to participate, saying even
nonrandom data will help scientists understand
Part of the proceeds will help fund the
Genographic Legacy Project, which will support
education and cultural preservation efforts
among participating indigenous groups.
Project organizers said the result will include
scientific papers, educational programming and a
public database that can serve as a resource for
scientists and researchers.
Blood samples will be collected from indigenous
people by researchers based at 10 sites around
the world: Shanghai, China; Moscow; Tamil Nadu,
India; Beirut, Lebanon; Philadelphia;
Johannesburg, South Africa; Paris; Melbourne,
Australia; Minas Gerais, Brazil; Cambridge,
The $40 million is being funded in part by the
Waitt Family Foundation.