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Students donate their DNA to trace ancient ancestry

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Two-hundred university students trudged through the snowy New York City streets to swab their cheeks and trace their ancient ancestry with the Genographic Project on the evening of Monday, February 3, 2014 at the American Museum of Natural History, according to the February 7, 2014 article by Miguel Vilar, "Testing the Genetic Diversity of College Students in New York City."

Students from over eight local Universities were given the unique opportunity to test their DNA with the Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry Kit. It features that new Genochip 2.0. The event is part of the New York City Student Ancestry Project, a collaboration between the City University of New York, National Geographic and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

Mike Hickerson, assistant professor of biology at the City College of New York, became familiar with the Cornell Ancestry Project when 200 Cornell undergrads participated in the Genographic Project to test the genetic diversity of the Cornell campus.

The point is to collect the DNA from as many people in the world as possible to map the many branches of human history and humanity hiding in each person's genome. Instead of having to pay for your DNA test for deep ancestry, the students' Geno 2.0 Kits were provided free of charge due to a grant awarded to Hickerson from the National Science Foundation.

In another study, ancient DNA reveals multiple stages of settlement in Europe

People frequently were on the move, carrying their genes with them. Research conducted by the National Geographic Genographic Project, a multiyear global initiative that uses DNA to map the history of human migration, is helping unravel the timing and source of human settlement in Central Europe. Take a look at the abstract of the study in a paper on the research, "Ancient DNA reveals key stages in the formation of Central European mitochondrial genetic diversity." You can check it out online where it has been published since Oct. 10, 2013, in the journal Science.

You also can check out the October 10, 2013 news release, "Ancient DNA Reveals Multiple Stages of Settlement in Europe, National Geographic’s Genographic Project Finds." What the study revealed is new ancient-DNA research led by the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project, the Australian Center for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and researchers from the University of Mainz in Germany and the State Heritage Museum in Halle (Germany) showed a pattern of genetic replacement taking place across several millennia in a region of central Europe. Also see the National Geographic Society site.

The genetic data reveal the complex dynamics that went into producing the present-day genetic patterns in Europe and show that the region that is now Germany saw at least four stages of significant migration and settlement, highlighted by marked shifts in the genetic composition of the populations in the region, according to one study

One of the great debates in archaeological research for the past century has been the degree to which cultures or people move. When you see a pronounced cultural shift in the archaeological record, for instance, is it because of a new people appearing on the scene, or is it simply the diffusion of a new culture? This new Genographic study shows definitively that, for Germany over a four-millennia-long time span from 5500 B.C. to 1500 B.C., it was people who were on the move, carrying their genes with them. See the site, "Ancient DNA reveals multiple stages of settlement in Europe."

"This is the largest and most detailed genetic time series of Europe yet created, allowing us to establish a complete genetic chronology," said joint lead author and Genographic Project scientist Dr. Wolfgang Haak of ACAD, according to the news release. "Focusing on this small but highly important geographic region meant we could generate a gapless record and directly observe genetic changes in 'real time' from 7,500 to 3,500 years ago, from the earliest farmers to the early Bronze Age."

Genographic Project Director Spencer Wells explained, according to the news release, "This is perhaps the most important study to date of genetic patterns in Europe during a critical period in the formation of modern Europe. Painstakingly collected data from well-dated archaeological remains spanning a period from the dawn of farming during the Neolithic period to the Bronze Age reveal successive waves of migration and population replacement genetic 'revolutions' that combined to create the genetic patterns we see today."

Representatives of the Genographic Project, which uses advanced, multi-locus DNA analyses to help answer fundamental questions about human origins, looked at the mitochondrial DNA control region sequences from remains of 364 people from different prehistoric time periods and cultures of Central Europe and performed a chronological genetic study that spanned more than 4,000 years

The remains from each time period were associated with known archaeological cultures of that time. Likewise, each period's remains were interpreted as indicative of that region's genetic diversity at that time, thus constituting a distinct population from other time periods. Each population showed marked differences from the others from the same region.

Spencer Wells is the Genographic Project director and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Washington, D.C., United States. And Wolfgang Haak, is the Genographic Project scientist, Australian Center for Ancient DNA (ACAD), Adelaide, Australia. For more information, see the National Geographic's Genographic Project site. The Genographic Project is anonymous, nonmedical, and nonprofit, and all results are placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication.

If you're interested in adding your ancestral DNA to the rest of the world's DNA collection project, the National Geographic's Genographic Project website notes that it's a multiyear research initiative led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells. Dr. Wells and a team of renowned international scientists are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots. The three components of the project are:

  • To gather and analyze research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples around the world.
  • To invite the general public to join this real-time scientific project and to learn about their own deep ancestry by purchasing a Genographic Project Participation and DNA Ancestry Kit, Geno 2.0.
  • To use a portion of the proceeds from Geno 2.0 kit sales to further research and the Genographic Legacy Fund, which in turn supports community-led indigenous conservation and revitalization projects. Also, you may wish to check out the site of the National Geographic Society.
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