Worldwide DNA project to map the origins of humanity

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The Independent Online

A genetic project to map the origins of humanity begins today with a global effort to collect DNA samples from thousands of people across the world.

A genetic project to map the origins of humanity begins today with a global effort to collect DNA samples from thousands of people across the world.

The aim is to trace the big migrations that have taken place over the past 100,000 years as our ancestors moved out of Africa to populate the planet.

By analysing the tiny differences between the DNA of indigenous people alive today, scientists hope to build a map of the migratory routes that our distant relatives took when exploring new places to live.

The Genographic Project will run for at least five years and cost tens of millions of pounds, according to its director Spencer Wells, a population geneticist.

"I see this as the 'moon shot' of anthropology. We are aiming to uncover key details about who we are as a species and how we've moved around the world," Dr Wells said.

"We're using DNA as a tool to examine the history of our species - how we migrated around the world and got to where we are today. The ultimate goal of the Genographic Project is to show how we are all connected to each other genetically," he said.

Funding for the project will be entirely from private sources, notable National Geographic magazine, the computer company IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation in America, a charity created by the founder of Gateway Computers.

Blood samples of hundreds of indigenous people - from the Inuit of the Arctic to the tribes of the Amazon basin - and cheek swabs from ordinary members of the public who volunteer to take part will form the basis of the DNA database.

"We're going to be sampling indigenous groups and we're hoping to get 100,000 samples from those groups during the life of the project," Dr Wells said.

"In addition there is a public participation programme so we could end up with hundreds of thousands of samples from all over the world," he said.

Mitochrondrial DNA, which is only inherited through the female line, will be analysed for genetic "markers" to show the relatedness of women to each other. The same will be done for the male Y chromosome to shed light on the migrations of men.

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