Friday, October 1, 2010

A Race For All Ages

Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Have you ever considered how you became who you are today? Do you consider yourself more different or similar to someone who looks completely opposite of you? Have you wondered how varying races were created; or considered that there may be no such thing as race, just simply the human one? Imagine you have the ability and access to answer every question above; answers that will send you back over 60,000 years ago to one single location on earth!

This is the Genographic Project. A real-time, world wide research project led by National Geographic aimed at using genetic and computational technologies to examine and link DNA samples from populations all across the globe to better understand the genetic history of the human species.

We are just a cheek swab away from participating in this amazing global undertaking. I’m going to explain this the way I understand it, but I strongly suggest you navigate through the links below. The links can provide a much better overview on the process of how genetics are understood, examples of both paternal and maternal lineage test results, and of course, it will clear up the difficult genetic jargon I encountered along the way when I researched this project.

As much as you may conceptually understand in theory that all humans sprung from a single man and woman, have you ever really wondered HOW that happened? If so, why do people look so different from one another? Let us step away from any biblical references for now, but still use the names Adam and Eve as the “first” male and female that we are all genetically linked to. Understand first that “Adam” and “Eve” lived thousands of years apart from one another- the mother of all long distance relationships- so they did not actually create the lineage together. Yet, both Y-chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve (as they are referred to by scientists) are the genetic foundation of every human living today! Although Eve lived about 150,000 ago, much earlier than Adam, I will explain this through the patrilineal line of Adam.

Over 60,000 years ago a male living in Africa (although certainly not the only or first male living there at the time) had fathered children and then grandchildren and so on that became the ONLY lineage of humans to travel and survive outside of Africa. That means that pretty much everyone alive today is a descendent of his, carrying within their DNA the genetic marker M168 (genetic marker- a gene or DNA sequence with a known location on a chromosome that can be used to identify cells, individuals or species. It can be described as a variation which can arise due to a mutation or alteration.). Don’t get caught up in definitions, the links below can provide a better understanding of genetic markers.

So, these descendants of Adam began their trek away from the motherland, some traveled up to the Middle East and over to other regions of Asia. Others traveled through Asia to Indonesia crossing over to Australia (which due to lower sea levels was only a distance of about 60 miles). They survive there for tens of thousands of years becoming what we know today as indigenous Australians. Yet, this is not the only place they ended up.

Descendants of Adam were steadily migrating out of Africa and into places such as the Middle East and so on. Around 45,000 years ago, a descendent of Adam fathered a child with a different genetic marker (a mutation/variation in the sequence), slightly shifting the lineage in another direction, but still a descendent of Adam. Today, about 92% of all non-African males in the world carry this genetic marker M89 (since paternal lineage is tested through Y chromosome which woman do not carry, a woman would need to use the DNA of a male relative to trace her paternal lineage, but both males and females can trace their maternal lineage through mitochondrial DNA testing).

Over the next 40 thousands years or so, the process continued and a random child was born with a new genetic marker that shifted and altered the characteristics of the human species, yet remained linked to Adam. It is these mutations, these genetic markers within everyone’s DNA, that scientists are tracking. This is how you will find out about your deepest ancestral roots.

With the simple swab of the inside of your cheek, you can find out about every genetic marker along your ancestral journey, the various points in history the mutations happened, and where geographically it led your kin. The results explain how they lived, what they ate, how they cared for their young, what tools they used at the time, the estimated population of homo sapiens on earth (there were other species of humans living at the time, such as Neanderthals, but they eventually died out), and what climatic changes they endured. That is just a brief overview though!

I am hoping, with Dr. Putrino’s help, Northeast will purchase several Genographic kits and our staff will participate in this project. I am eager to speak to you all about the process at our next staff meeting. For now, please check out the links below and tell me what you think of the Genographic Project, and if it is something you will want to participate in.

Carole Jecki

Global Studies Coordinator

National Geographic Website:

The Genographic Project - Human Migration, Population Genetics, Maps, DNA - National Geographic

Yes, I needed to read a little DNA for helped so much!


An example of a paternal test result:

Jeff's Blog: My DNA Results Are Out! / Genographic Project

An example of a maternal test result:

Genographic results from my mother’s side « radioAe6rt

A book by Jared Diamond I read in college that is by far the most fascinating explanation of the development of human societies. I read it in complete awe... AND it fits right in with this topic!

Guns, Germs & Steel: Summary and book reviews of Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond.


  1. Wow, Carole, this is deep! Put me at the top of the list to swab!

  2. Very interesting. I know that DNA testing is now done routinely for pregnancy. Doctor's can identify problems way before birth. (How do I know that?) A little scary but medically necessary to divert problems at birth. I would be very interested to know my genetic make-up.

  3. WOW, sounds like fun!! I think this is a very cool project for our staff to participate in. I am very excited to see how it all works. I would be very interested to learn about my ancestors and how we’re all connected.

  4. This has me interested because I am curious to find out about my husband's ancestral roots. So many Asians mistake my husband as Chinese (which he is not!) I am going to swab my husband’s mouth and bring it to you, Carole! ;) On a more serious note, this test may prove that we are all related to one another much more so than we ever imagined.

  5. Sounds very interesting to me! It's so amazing what we can learn today. I would love to understand the connection between all people... Maybe then we could do away with some of the ignorance we've all witnessed!

  6. Carole this sounds amazing!! Coming from a family where I am the first generation American born citizen (on one side), I’m extremely interested in learning about my ancestral roots. I have so many family members living around the world that it would definitely be interesting to see where everyone originated from. From my understanding of this project, the results will not take you to your family’s present day location, but I’m interested to see how close it will bring us. Great idea:)

  7. It really is such an interesting topic. I can't stop reading about it, and Arlene, I totally feel the same family (myself included) were born in the Middle East, and I am so curious to know if they traveled there out of Africa and never left, or if they also made their way all over Asia before returning to the Middle East. If all goes as planned, it is going to be a great project to share with the children. Teaching them how similar they are to one another, despite physical appearances, will give them such a sense of connection towards one another. Let's face it, I think children and adults alike could use a little meaningful connection!

  8. I would love to volunteer to be a part of this! Is it too late? Growing up in Hawaii, cultures are embraced and celebrated, applauded and lovingly parodied. People would "talk story" and sing songs about their heritage.

    My father claims to be Mexican, German, Irish and Native American (Apache), and my mother is Okinawan. My birth certificate labels me as Japanese and Mexican. I've always wanted to trace my roots.

    What an exciting project!