Changing Planet

Happy DNA Day: Genetic Results From New York City Students Reveal Microcosm of the World

Sixty-one years ago tomorrow, James Watson and Francis Crick published a landmark paper on the structure of DNA. Now, April 25 is recognized as DNA Day, a day for celebrating all that we know about genetics, including what DNA tells us about our ancient past. Today, Genographic Project scientists are collaborating with populations around the globe to better understand this ancient past, and fill in the missing gaps of what we know about our shared human history.

A recent Genographic Project study—in collaboration with the City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History—looked at the DNA from 200 New York City students from local colleges and universities. Since the day the students swabbed their cheeks back in February, we have discovered that in their DNA exists a microcosm of the world’s genetic diversity.

The results from the students’ DNA showed a range of maternal and paternal haplogroups from across the globe, suggesting their parents and grandparents had diverse backgrounds and in some cases, were from distant places. “You guys are very cosmopolitan,” explains Dr. Spencer Wells, Director of the Genographic Project, to the crowd of students that came back to the museum yesterday, April 23rd, to learn about their results.

“When I saw my results, it was like, oh yeah, I knew that,” explained Steve from City College. “Science is actually backing up the stories that my dad told me about where we came from.”

Map of Mitochondrial DNA Distribution Among Student Participants
Map of Mitochondrial DNA Distribution Among Student Participants (Click Map to Enlarge)

In the results, we found over 130 distinct maternal lineages from nearly every major world haplogroup represented in these students. Among the 71 male participants, we found 59 distinct paternal lineages from five different continents.

Map of Y-Chromosome DNA Distribution Among Student Participants
Map of Y-Chromosome DNA Distribution Among Student Participants (Click Map to Enlarge)

“The New York City Student’s participation leverages the citizen science component of the Genographic Project,” expressed Wells. “The more people who participate, the more we learn about new or rare genetic lineages and their present-day distributions. We hope to increase representation from groups that may not be included among the current participants, and ultimately we are trying to tell the human story, and that has a multitude of fascinating chapters.”

Interested in learning how you can be a part of the Project and joining in on the DNA fun? Join the Google Science Fair Hangout with Genographic Project Director Spencer Wells on DNA day: Friday, April 25th at 3:00PM EST. YouTube star Alex Dainis (of Bite SCI-zed) will lead the discussion along with a classroom of curious students. These students have already joined the more than 620,000 other participants from 130 countries who have participated in the Genographic Project.


Dr. Miguel Vilar is the Science Manager for National Geographic's Genographic Project. Miguel is also a molecular anthropologist and a science writer. His fieldwork has taken him to remote places throughout the South Pacific, East Africa, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. In the laboratory he researches the modern genetic diversity of human populations from Melanesia, Micronesia, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Miguel has published in several anthropology and genetics journals, as well as popular science magazines.
  • Sandy

    How can I update our Genographic info? We entered April 17th, 2007, and only have our confidential GRID number. We don’t have passwords and would like to update.

  • Northern Free Thinker

    So interesting that the maternal line of these students is 14% aboriginal, compared to only 3% paternal lineage. Could it be that the initial male European settlers reproduced with a larger number of aboriginal women than we think, carrying over to today’s general population? I am very surprised at that 14%, extremely interesting.

  • jwg230

    Fascinating project, but please correct the many errors in your first two sentences…

    “Fifty-one years ago James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin published a landmark paper on the structure of DNA.” – actually it was SIXTY-one years ago that the paper was published in Nature and it was authored by Watson and Crick. On the same day, Wilkins and Franklin each published their own, separate, papers, also in Nature. (

    “Since then, April 25 has been recognized as DNA Day, a day for celebrating all that we know about genetics, including what DNA tells us about our ancient past. ” – DNA Day actually only started being recognized in 2003, when it was the date that the Human Genome Project chose to announce it was nearly complete.

  • Miguel Vilar

    Thank you for the corrections and comments. Sandy, you can reach us at if you need help accessing your results or updating.

    Yes, the disproportional pattern of 3% Native American in male and 14% in female lineages is commonly seen in populations that went through a long European colonial period, like much of Latin America. In Puerto Rico, for example, the indigenous female lineages account for 60% of the population, while indigenous male lineages are practically non-existent.

  • alan rodriguez

    so i can see where i come??? woow amazing idea!!! and cool!!! when just ?? if it just?

  • Genny

    Wondering if the cost of a kit would skew
    results because of those who can afford it and those
    who cannot.

  • Miffy Seal


    Native American Female Matrilineal Haplogroup lines are perhaps very much prevalent in the Latin American population present in NYC due to the higher indigenous American population centers that were based out of Mexico, Central American nations (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile) due to the dominating city states and empires based out of these regions (Aztec, Zapotec, Maya, Inca-Quechua, Ayamara, etc.).

  • Miffy Seal

    Please also note that the mindset for the longest time has been to emphasize European (Spanish or Portuguese) traditions, languages, culture, cuisine over the Indigenous American people’s traditions, languages, culture, cuisine. That mindset is prevalent in the higher institutions like Academia, Finance, Media where the Indigenous Americans are looked down upon. Thus, there are so many Latin Americans who have lost track of their indigenous American roots due to the Spanish/Portuguese colonial brainwashing mindset. Perhaps these DNA results and many more to follow will trigger a movement in Indigenous American tribal peoples language, tradition, faith, culture, and cuisine.

  • Island Girl

    The differential contributions of Southern European males and females also point to the impact of colonization in the Americas. While only 9% of the matrilineal lineages were traced to Southern Europe, an astounding 42% of patrilineal lineages came from that region. That would seem to point to Spanish, Portuguese and French colonization as the reason for these skewed results. Note also that this is not true of the Northern European numbers which are more balanced between male and female lines.

  • Miguel Vilar

    Thank you Miffy Seal and Island Girl for your recent comments. Yes, it is very interesting to compare the frequencies between mitochondrial (maternal) and Y chromosome (paternal) haplogorups, specially when it comes to Native American and southern European lineages. The discrepancies between these is very telling.
    I do hope studies and projects like these will motivate Native American and Latin American groups all over North, Central, and South America to look at genetics and biology as complementary to language and culture.

  • José Alberto Pagán-Lugo

    These results of more aboriginal maternal lines corroborate what we learned at school and heard from our elders: That the colonizers physically abused of the male slaves, native americans, and blacks as well, often to death, and sexually abused, most cases, of the female slaves. Unbiased history books teach that, and well done movies, like Roots, and historic novels, etc., too.

  • Angela cable

    How do I get my genome traced?

  • Adrian

    Sandy and M Vilar,
    Why almost all of the human populations, expected Oceanian people, were dominating with Male Y DNA Haplogroups than Female Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup. Do the Women DNA were evidently more explained with Human Ethnic groups in the world. Almost a week, i saw about 2 couples of European Men and Asian Women in my city, Surabaya. Indeed, in my town it’s extremely rare (Less than 0,25%) to see an Asian Man walking together with European woman.

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