WASHINGTON—The National Geographic Society today announced the next phase of its Genographic Project — the multiyear global research initiative that uses DNA to map the history of human migration. Building on seven years of global data collection, Genographic continues to shine new light on humanity’s collective past, yielding tantalizing clues about humankind’s journey across the planet.
“Our first phase drew participation from more than a half-million participants from over 130 countries. It is evidence of enormous interest in deep ancestry among the global public — tracing the paths their ancestors took as they migrated around the world over the past 60,000 years,” said Project Director Dr. Spencer Wells, a population geneticist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. “Now, the Genographic Project’s second phase creates an even greater citizen science opportunity — and the more people who participate, the more our scientific knowledge will grow.”
The Genographic Project enters this groundbreaking new stage of research by harnessing powerful genetic technology to further explore and document the historic pathways of human migration. Based in part on a unique database compiled during the project’s first phase, the next generation of the Genographic Project Participation Kit — Geno 2.0 — examines a unique collection of nearly 150,000 DNA identifiers that offers rich, ancestry-relevant information from across the entire human genome. In addition to learning their detailed migratory history, participants will learn how their DNA is affiliated with various regions in the world, and even if they have traces of Neanderthal or Denisovan ancestry — from our ancient hominid “cousins” who lived in Europe and parts of Asia tens of thousands of years ago before going extinct.
Participants will receive their results through a newly designed, multi-platform Web experience. In addition to full visualizations of their migratory path and regional affiliations, participants can share information on their genealogy to inform scientists about recent migratory events. These stories also can be shared with the broader Genographic Project community; as the number of contributions grows, the experience will become richer, as participants learn more about themselves and their shared ancestry. Results also can be shared as an infographic for social platforms.
Already, project results have led to the publication of 35 scientific papers, reporting results such as the origin of Caucasian languages, the early routes of migrations out of Africa, the footprint of the Phoenicians in the Mediterranean, the genetic impact of the Crusades and the genetic origins of the Romanian royal dynasty that included Vlad the Impaler. The project’s DNA results and analysis are stored in a database that is the largest collection of human anthropological genetic information ever assembled.
“The Genographic Project truly represents another facet of a new age of exploration. The newest Genographic technology will push the limits of our research, inspiring us to learn more about ourselves and leveraging the insights gleaned so far to take citizen science and genetic testing to a whole new level,” said Terry Garcia, executive vice president of Mission Programs at National Geographic.
Applications from Scientists Welcome
New to the second phase of Genographic, the project will invite applications for grants from researchers around the world for projects studying the history of the human species, which use innovative anthropological genetic tools such as the custom-designed “GenoChip,” a technology developed by scientists using Illumina’s Infinium iSelect HD BeadChips specifically for the study of human migration patterns. Sample research topics could include the origin and spread of the Indo-European languages, genetic insights into regions of high linguistic diversity such as Papua New Guinea, the number and routes of migrations out of Africa, the origin of the Inca or the genetic impact of the spread of maize agriculture in the Americas.
During Genographic’s first phase, Wells and project scientists traveled the globe to collaborate with tens of thousands of indigenous people, whose genetics are particularly significant in determining human migratory routes. Wells and Pierre Zalloua, principal investigator in the Middle East, for example, collaborated with the Toubou people of northern Chad, whose DNA has revealed insights into ancient migrations across the Sahara. Genographic’s principal investigator in the Oceana region, Lisa Matisoo-Smith, worked intensively with people on the remote south Pacific island of Emirau, collecting DNA samples and sharing the results with them.
The Genographic Project team worked with individuals, institutions and organizations all over the world to find and tell their genetic stories, including the prime minister of Kazakhstan, who invited Wells and his colleagues to collect DNA samples in his country after becoming fascinated with his family story as revealed by his Genographic kit results; the people of Barbados, who requested a study on the pattern of diversity in the country using the public participation kits; and members of the public in South Africa, who learned that they carry links to the region’s earliest inhabitants, the San people, in addition to genetic lineages from elsewhere in Africa, India and Europe.
The project also tested 200 random people on a single day on a block of Queens, New York, to demonstrate the area’s diversity. In a collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s multidisciplinary education foundation The Silk Road Project, more than 400 students at four New York City public schools swabbed their cheeks and traced their ancient ancestry.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Genographic Participation Kits funds project research and the Genographic Legacy Fund, which awards grants to support community-led cultural conservation and revitalization initiatives among indigenous and traditional communities around the world. So far, the Genographic Project has provided 62 Legacy Fund grants worth $1.7 million. Efforts supported by the grants include the creation of teaching materials on the ancient wisdom of the Chuj in a Maya community in Guatemala and the revitalization of indigenous languages in Nepal, India, Taiwan, French Polynesia, Mexico and Bolivia.
‘GenoThreads’ Connects Students, Teachers
A new education program called GenoThreads enables science, culture and geography to be naturally woven into a shared educational experience. GenoThreads connects students and teachers around the world who are using Genographic participation kits; this allows a cross-cultural exchange between students via email and videoconference for a truly global experience. In the first GenoThreads project, high school students in Switzerland are sharing their results with those halfway across the world in Singapore.
Members of the public are encouraged to visit the Genographic Project’s newly created website at www.genographic.com. Featuring National Geographic photography, the website gives Genographic participants the opportunity to learn more about their own ancestry and find ancestral connections. The Genographic Project remains nonmedical and nonprofit, and all analysis results are placed in the public domain following scientific publication. The Genographic Project serves as an unprecedented resource for geneticists, historians, anthropologists and citizen scientists.
Images are available at http://press2.nationalgeographic.com/downloads/geno/.
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Full press kit, including details on the Geno 2.0 kits, is available at https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/press/.
Visit the Genographic Project’s website: www.genographic.com.