The Genographic Project Turns Ten



Ten years ago, National Geographic and IBM teamed up with a group of international scientists and indigenous community members at National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. to kick off the Genographic Project. Our plan: To use advanced DNA analyses to answer fundamental scientific questions, such as where we originated from, and how we came to populate the earth.

Thanks to funding from the Waitt Family Foundation, over the last ten years the international network of scientists have helped reveal rich new details about our global migratory history. Now more than 700,000 people have participated in the Genographic Project by submitting their DNA, becoming citizen scientists and enabling us to rewrite human history.

To summarize ten amazing years, which are thanks to startup funds from the Waitt Family Foundation and an overwhelming support from the public, we’ve compiled the Top Ten Genographic Highlights from our first decade. Also, for the next 10 days you can save $10 on Geno 2.0, plus enjoy free shipping. Click here for the discount.

10. Inspiring a Haplogroup Honeymoon: An uber-enthusiastic participant from Sleepy Hollow, Illinois and his equally charmed fiancee, participated in the Genographic Project and used what they learned about their ancestry to determine their honeymoon destination. After receiving their results, the couple settled on Kenya, Africa, a place in the world where their ancient ancestors crossed paths hundreds of thousands of years ago. True love, science style.

9. Showcasing the World’s Melting Pot: On a single day, on a single street, and with the DNA of just a few hundred random people from Queens, New York, The Genographic Project set out to trace the ancestral footsteps of all humanity. The effort, part of the 2009 National Geographic Channel documentary, The Human Family Tree, established Queens as a true microcosm of the world’s genetic diversity.

8. Uncovering the Skeletons in Europe’s Closet: Two landmark studies published in 2012 and 2013 on ancient DNA in Europe, reshaped our understanding of early settlement of the continent–untangling the complex wave of migrations and interactions that underlie the genetic origins of Europeans.

7. Bringing DNA to the Classroom:  Working with Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, hundreds of public school students in the United States and around the world participated in the Genographic Project as part a multidisciplinary educational initiative. Thousands of other schools continue to participate with a special educator discount for Genographic kits and free online lesson plans.

6. Establishing Citizen Scientists: More than 700,000 members of the public have submitted their DNA to the Genographic Project to participate in this real-time research study. With a simple and painless cheek swab, they became citizen scientists helping us add new branches to our human family tree.

5. Getting Tech Savvy: Based on years of research and the contribution of a half-million participants, Genographic scientists created the first and most complete genetic testing chip to be used for anthropological research: The GenoChip. With the GenoChip, participants can learn about their deep paternal and maternal migratory routes, get an estimate of their regional ancestry, and learn how much Neanderthal DNA they carry. Each chip tests for about 150,000 mutational points in a participant’s DNA.

4. Mapping Migration: A breakthrough scientific research paper by the Genographic Consortium established that humans left Africa through the southern route across the Red Sea, from the Horn of Africa into modern-day Saudi Arabia and Yemen, some 60,000 years ago. Previous research had suggested that humans had left Africa through the northern route, across the Sinai Peninsula.

3. Exploration in the Field: Genographic Project Director and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells set out on an expedition to collaborate with indigenous populations around the world to trace humankind’s migration. The work, incorporated into the documentary Journey of Man, set the stage to launch what is now the Genographic Project. It continues with 11 teams of international scientists going to remote places like the deserts of Chad, the mountains of Tajikistan and the rainforests of the Amazon to collaborate with people from around the globe.

2. Giving Back to Indigenous Communities: The Genographic Legacy Fund, funded by sales of the Geno 2.0 DNA Kits, has enabled us to award nearly 100 grants totaling more than $2.4 million in support of indigenous led cultural and linguistic revitalization projects. One project funded a mobile preschool in Southern Cameroon to bring early education to the Baka children.

1. Creating a Genetic Gold Mine: The Genographic Project has created the largest and most complete database of non-medical, anthropological genetic data in the world. Home to more than 20 billion ancestry-informative data points and a collection of ancestral stories, this resource will soon be available to scientists and genealogists to continue analyzing and advancing the science of genetics.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
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.