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.


Changing Planet

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.