National Geographic and IBM launched a groundbreaking research initiative that will trace the migratory history of the human species. The Genographic Project has three core components: field research, public participation and awareness, and the Genographic legacy project that will fund future field research and support education and cultural preservation projects among participating indigenous groups.
Ten international Genographic Project research sites have been established so that scientists can gather DNA samples from voluntary indigenous participants. The team of principal investigators, led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells, Ph.D., is charged with gathering as many as 10,000 samples each. The field research component of the project is funded by the Waitt Family Foundation.
Three men representing three very different cultures joined Dr. Wells at the launch of the Genographic Project in Washington, D.C., on April 13. Each talked about what they hope to gain for themselves and their people from the Genographic Project.
Julius Indaaya Hun/!un//!ume, a Hadza chieftain from Tanzania, spoke about the threats to his small hunter-gatherer tribe from the commercialization of the land. He hopes that the project will call attention to his tribe’s threatened cultural legacy before it is too late.
Battur “Turo” Tumur, a Mongolian living in San Francisco, talked about his and his family’s excitement in discovering they were descended from Chinggis Kahn (Genghis Kahn to the Western world). “He is our hero,” said Tumur. “People may not know much about Mongolia, but they have all heard of ‘Genghis Kahn.’ Every Mongolian idolizes him and wants to be related to him.”
Phil Bluehouse Jr. is a Native American of the Navajo Nation. He has dedicated much of his time to the Dineh Medicine Man’s Association. The Navajos have a deep belief that all people are connected. They share those beliefs, and the story of their creation, through their strong tradition of migration stories.
In emotional testimony before a packed auditorium, Bluehouse said, “I think this project may confirm the journey we, as Navajos, have been telling for a long time.” He closed the launch event by saying the project is telling him that “we’re all just beautifully connected.”
More information about Indaaya’s, Tumur’s and Bluehouse’s participation in the launch event is available at the Genographic Project Web site at nationalgeographic.com/genographic. A video of their appearance at the Washington event is also posted on the Web site.
The Genographic Project will use sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA, contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, both indigenous peoples and members of the general public, to map how the Earth was populated. The project is expected to reveal rich new details about global human migratory history and to drive new understanding about the connections and differences that make up the human species. The resulting database will house one of the largest collections of human population genetic information ever assembled and will serve as an unprecedented resource for geneticists, historians and anthropologists.