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.
Geno 2.0 test
Nine ancestral regions make up each of populations' 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)
- 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.
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].
- Michael Shapiro (October/November 2007). "The Ancestors' Ancestors". Hana Hou! Vol. 10 #5. Retrieved 2007-10-18.
- "Genetic Signposts" (National Geographic Xpeditions).
- "Genographic:Permanent Markers" (The Genographic Project), National Geographic.
- 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.