The Genographic Project, launched on 13 April 2005 by the National Geographic Society and IBM, is a multi-year genetic anthropology study that aims to map historical human migration patterns by collecting and analyzing DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.
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Field researchers at 11 regional centers around the world collect DNA samples from indigenous populations. The project also sells self-testing kits: for US$100 (with the advent of Phase II "Geno2.0" testing the price has been increased to US$199.95 for a far more comprehensive test) anyone in the world can order a kit with which a mouth scraping (buccal swab) is obtained, analyzed and the DNA information placed on an Internet accessible database. In the first phase of the project, genetic markers on mitochondrial DNA (HVR1) and Y-chromosomes (12 microsatellite markers and haplogroup-defining SNPs) were used to trace the participant's distant ancestry, and each customer was provided with their genetic history via a secure website. With the new Geno 2.0 test, nearly 150,000 genetic markers from across the entire genome are examined, with the results delivered via an updated website. As of 2013 some 600,000 people have contributed their DNA, and the success of the project has spawned a broader interest in direct-to-consumer genetic testing.
The Genographic Project is undertaking widespread consultation with indigenous groups from around the world. Genographic Project public participation kits are processed by Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) in Houston, Texas.
The project is a privately funded, not-for-profit collaboration between the National Geographic Society, IBM and the . Part of the proceeds from the sale of self-testing kits support the Genographic Project's ongoing DNA collection, but the majority are ploughed into a Legacy Fund to be spent on cultural preservation projects nominated by indigenous communities.
In Fall 2012, The Genographic Project announced the completion of a brand new genotyping array, dedicated to Genetic Anthropology, called the
GenoChip. GenoChip is specifically designed for anthropological testing and includes SNPs SNPs from autosomal DNA, X-chromosome DNA, Y-chromosome DNAand mitochondrial DNA. The design of the new chip was a collaborative effort between Dr. Eran Elhaik of Johns Hopkins, Spencer Wells of National Geographic, Family Tree DNA and Illumina.
Geno 2.0 test
The Admixture test developed by Spencer Wells and Eran Elhaik classifies individuals to nine ancestral regions that make up their genomes: Northeast Asian, Mediterranean, Southern African, Southwest Asian, Oceanian, Southeast Asian, Northern European, Sub-Saharan African and Native American. There are 43 reference populations, each made up of distinct blends of these nine regions (results < 2% are not reported by Geno 2.0):
|Population||Mediterranean||Northern European||Southwest Asian||Sub-Saharan African||Southern African||Northeast Asian||Southeast Asian||Native American||Oceanian||Total|
Team members include:
- Spencer Wells, project director (National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence)
- Eran Elhaik, principal investigator, Bioinformatics Research Center (Johns Hopkins)
- Jin Li, principal investigator, East Asia
- Theodore Schurr, principal investigator, North America
- Fabricio Santos, principal investigator, South America
- Jaume Bertranpetit, David Comas and Lluis Quintana-Murci, principal investigators, Western Europe and Central Europe
- Pierre Zalloua, principal investigator, Middle East and Northern Africa
- Himla Soodyall, principal investigator, Sub-Saharan Africa
- Elena Balanovska, principal investigator, North Eurasia
- Ramasamy Pitchappan, principal investigator, India
- Alan Cooper, principal investigator, Ancient DNA
- John Mitchell, principal investigator, Australia and New Zealand
- Lisa Matisoo-Smith, principal investigator, Oceania
- Ajay Royyuru, head of computational biology, IBM
- Simon Longstaff, advisory board chair (director of the St James Ethics Centre)
- Meave Leakey, advisory board member
- Merritt Ruhlen, advisory board member
- Colin Renfrew, advisory board member
- Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, advisory board member
- Wade Davis, advisory board member
- Kim McKay, National Geographic Consultant and Genographic Legacy Fund committee member
- Dominique Rissolo, advisory board member
Use of genetic markers
The Genographic Project relies on the identification of genetic markers. Most human DNA is a shuffled combination of genetic material passed down the generations. There are, however, parts of the human genome that pass unshuffled from parent to child. These segments of DNA are only changed by occasional mutations—random spelling mistakes in the genetic code. When these spelling mistakes are passed down to succeeding generations, they become markers of descent.
Different populations have different genetic markers, and by following them through the generations scientists are able to identify the different branches of the human tree, all the way back to their common African root. Indigenous populations provide geographical and cultural context to the genetic markers in their DNA. These clues can help recreate past migration patterns.
Since 2005 Genographic has used volunteers (in fieldwork & providing DNA samples) and citizen science projects, encouraged by organizations like International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), which have become increasingly focused providing benefits to scientific research. This includes supporting, organization and dissemination of personal DNA (genetic) testing. Like Amateur astronomy, citizen scientists encouraged by volunteer organizations like ISOGG - the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, have provided valuable information and research to the professional scientific community.
Spencer Wells, Phd., Director of the Genographic Project blurb:
Since 2005, the Genographic Project has used the latest genetic technology to expand our knowledge of the human story, and its pioneering use of DNA testing to engage and involve the public in the research effort has helped to create a new breed of "citizen scientist." Geno 2.0 expands the scope for citizen science, harnessing the power of the crowd to discover new details of human population history.
Shortly after the announcement of the project in April 2005, the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB), released a statement protesting about the project, its connections with the HGDP, and called for a boycott of IBM, Gateway Computers, and National Geographic. Around May 2006, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) recommended suspending the project. Concerns were that the knowledge gleaned from the research could clash with long held beliefs leading to the destruction of their culture. They also feared that it could endanger land rights and other benefits.
In May 2006, the representatives of Indigenous went to UNPFII contesting any involvement in the testing. "The Genographic Project is exploitative and unethical because it will use Indigenous peoples as subjects of scientific curiosity in research that provides no benefit to Indigenous peoples, yet subjects them to significant risks. Researchers will take blood or other bodily tissue samples for their own use in order to further their own speculative theories of human history".
UNPFII conducted investigations into the objectives of the Genographic Project, and concluded that since the project was "conceived and has been initiated without appropriate consultation with or regard for the risks to its subjects, the Indigenous peoples, the Council for Responsible Genetics concludes that the Indigenous peoples' representatives are correct and that the Project should be immediately suspended".
As of December 2006[update], some federally recognized tribes in North America have declined to take part. "What the scientists are trying to prove is that we're the same as the Pilgrims except we came over several thousand years before", said Maurice Foxx, chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag. "Why should we give them that openly?" However, more than 70,000 indigenous participants from the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania had joined the project as of December 2012[update].
Literature inspired by the Genographic Project
Wetion, a book and musical written by James Allan Krause was inspired by the Genographic Project. The author relies on the migration route charted by the National Genographic Project to construct his story, which begins in the Omo Kibish region of Africa and ends at Lake Katepwa, Canada, 2,000 generations later.
- Michael Shapiro (October/November 2007). "The Ancestors' Ancestors". Hana Hou! Vol. 10 #5. Retrieved 2007-10-18.
- Who Am I: Regions Overview
- "Genetic Signposts" (National Geographic Xpeditions).
- "Genographic:Permanent Markers" (The Genographic Project), National Geographic.
- Bonney, R. and LaBranche, M. (2004). Citizen Science: Involving the Public in Research. ASTC Dimensions. May/June 2004, p. 13.
- Baretto, C., Fastovsky, D. and Sheehan, P. (2003). A Model for Integrating the Public into Scientific Research. Journal of Geoscience Education. 50 (1). p. 71-75.
- McCaffrey, R.E. (2005). Using Citizen Science in Urban Bird Studies. Urban Habitats. 3 (1). p. 70-86.
- King, Turi E.; Jobling, Mark A. (2009). "What's in a name? Y chromosomes, surnames and the genetic genealogy revolution". Trends in Genetics 25 (8): 351–60. doi:10.1016/j.tig.2009.06.003. PMID 19665817. "The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (www.isogg.org) advocates the use of genetics as a tool for genealogical research, and provides a support network for genetic genealogists. It hosts the ISOGG Y-haplogroup tree, which has the virtue of being regularly updated."
- Mendex, etc. al., Fernando (Feb., 28, 2013). "An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree". The American Society of Human Genetics. Retrieved July 10, 2013. This is Volume 92, Issue 3, pages 454-459.
- Wells, Spencer (2013). "The Genographic Project and the Rise of Citizen Science". Southern California Genealogical Society (SCGS). Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Harmon, Amy (10 December 2006). "DNA Gatherers Hit Snag: Tribes Don't Trust Them". The New York Times.
- "United Nations Recommends Halt to Genographic Project".
- Genographic Project, official site at National Geographic
- IBM Genographic Project, official site at IBM
- "Finding the roots of modern humans". CNN. 14 April 2005.
- "'Genographic Project' aims to tell us where we came from". USA Today. 17 April 2005.
- "Indigenous Peoples Oppose National Geographic", Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism, 13 April 2005.
- "Tracking the Truth", DB2 Magazine (IBM), information about IBM's role in the project. December 2006.
- Genographic Success Stories
- "Crusaders left genetic legacy". BBC News. 27 March 2008.
- "Human Line 'Nearly split In Two'". BBC News. 24 April 2008.
- Spencer Wells: Building a family tree for all humanity on YouTube, on TED, 29 August 2008.