Friday, October 05, 2007

The Genographic Project

Yes, I'm still knitting, but in the absence of anything interesting to show, I thought I'd write about something I just discovered: National Geographic's Genographic Project.

I know, I'm probably the last person to have heard about it, but I find it so exciting that I just have to share.

Under the auspices of National Geographic, Dr. Spencer Wells is heading this massive five-year study of human migration, charting the migration of peoples through the analysis of DNA. One focus of the project is the collection of DNA from isolated, indigenous peoples--those whose separateness is threatened by growing contact and intermingling with the rest of the world.

But the part of the project that I find personally fascinating is the public participation aspect. The project is collecting genetic samples from anyone who chooses to participate, providing further depth to the knowledge about the migrations of peoples. If you choose to participate, they send you a kit for you to take a DNA sample (through a cheek swab). Some weeks later, they will post your results on their website. You can find out more about your deep ancestry than you ever could have before. You'll learn which path your family took from our common origin in Africa. It's not genealogy; it's a glimpse into your own prehistoric past.

Of course, it's just a glimpse, a limited view into your past. Women will learn the migration path of their family only through the maternal line, because the mitochondrial DNA is what remains unchanged from one generation to the next (except for mutations, of course). Men can choose to trace their family's migration path through their paternal line (because the Y chromosome is unchanged except for mutations) or through their maternal line (through mitochondria). But I think it's absolutely fascinating to be able to get even this limited glimpse into this previously unknowable past!

Our kits arrived from National Geographic yesterday, and we'll be sending the samples in tomorrow. Then, waiting on pins and needles to see what we find out!


Knitting Linguist said...

Very cool! I somehow thought you had to pay to do this; I'll have to go and get them to send kits our way (as an adopted person, it's even more interesting). I can't wait to find out what you hear!

Tracy said...

There is a fee to take part -- it's $107.50 per kit (including tax) -- but the fee goes to offset the cost of the research the project is doing with indigenous peoples. I'm investigating to see if part of the fee might be tax-deductible. It seems like it should be, if the money goes to fund scientific research....

Fiberjoy said...

Fascinating. I'm not sure about paying the fee though it certainly is reasonable to ask a research price!

Hope you don't mind that I tagged you for a book meme. Details on my blog. There's also a drawing for a book you would enjoy - if you haven't read it already!

Fiberjoy said...

I moved my blog to wordpress though it's easier to make comments through blogger.

Morticcia said...

Be forwarned that these DNA projects aren't as clear cut as they are advertised.

My father was moved to do his a year or so ago. With both sides of his family having been in the northeastern part of the country since the 17th century we thought we'd get clear results.

The documentation they send back is not easily understood by lay people. It is highly idiomatic, bogged down in the industry's nomenclature.

No one in my family could make it it all out. My dad was sorely disappointed.