Changing Planet

Genographic Sets Sail to the Dominican Republic

‘The Dominican Republic has it all.’  That phrase is not just the slogan that tourists see when visiting the beautiful Caribbean nation, but it is also what a team of geneticists and anthropologists are hoping to show as they embark on a one-of-a-kind study across the eastern half of the island of Hispañola.

Map of the Caribbean Region. Courtesy of National Georaphic.

Drs. Theodore Schurr and Miguel Vilar, two Genographic Project scientists, recently visited the Caribbean country to help launch an ambitious project that intends to map the diversity and ancestry of the people of the Dominican Republic, and by doing so better understand the history of the region.  The project is being led a team of Dominican researchers and is part of a collaboration between La Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) and La Academia Dominicana de la Historia, both in Santo Domingo, and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Dr. Theodore Schurr, UNIBE student Ana Lucia Mercedes, and Dr. Robert Paulino (background) in Sanaigua, Dominican Republic. Photo by Miguel Vilar

Over the course of the next several months, researchers and students from UNIBE will visit most provinces in the country and meet with people from at least 25 different communities.  They hope to enroll some 1000 individuals and analyze the DNA samples and demographic histories collected from them.

“Visiting the remote communities really shows us the great diversity of our country, the culture, the idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants of the various provinces, and the richness of what we are,” explains Dr. Robert Paulino, lead researcher and UNIBE professor. “We are the instruments of mother Africa, the nobility of the indigenous Taino, and the European adventurer. That mixture is what makes us Dominicans.” Once completed, this project will be one of the most comprehensive studies conducted in a single country during the Genographic Project’s 10-year history.

Dr. Miguel Vilar explains the project to participants in Sanaigua, DR. Drs. Schurr and Paulino (right) and the UNIBE team listen in. Photo by Ricardo Domingo.

With keen interest in Caribbean history, in 2014 Vilar and Schurr published an article on the genetic diversity of Puerto Rico explaining how the DNAs of modern Puerto Ricans show patterns of both historic and prehistoric (pre-colonial) importance.  And just last month the two scientists teamed up with Dr. Jada Benn-Torres of Notre Dame University and indigenous leaders from the islands of St. Vincent and Trinidad on a new publication that shows how the genetic patterns in those Lesser Antillean communities inform us about early Caribbean migrations, as well as colonial practices and hardships of the last five-hundred years.

“We’re really trying to connect the dots and understand the migration, the flow of people in and out of the region,” said Schurr. “Each island seems to have its distinct history.” To learn more about this and other work of the Genographic Project work visit

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.
  • DZA

    European adventurer? Seriously? They were more than adventurers. If only we can ask the enslaved Africans and decimated Tainos of the 1500s who the Europeans were to them. You gotta be kidding me. Why sanitize history? Why not just tell it like it is!

  • DZA

    European adventurer? Seriously? They were more than adventurers. If only we can ask the enslaved Africans and decimated Tainos of the 1500s who the Europeans were to them. You gotta be kidding me. Why sanitize history? Why not just tell it like it is?

  • Ariel H. T.

    If we go by old Dominican censuses, La Victoria (Santo Domingo Norte) is the place that has more African descent from the colonial era, followed by Villa Mella (Santo Domingo Norte). Consuelo (San Pedro de Macorís) and Santa Lucía (El Seibo) have a lot of Afro-Haitian and Afro-Antillean descent, as well as the borderland provinces. I expect these places to be the most African ones.

    Whereas Sabaneta (Santiago Rodríguez), Jicomé de Monción (Santiago), Jánico (Santiago), and Sabana Iglesia (Santiago), Villa Vásquez (Monte Cristi) have plenty of colonial European descent. Many boroughs of Santo Domingo city that are populated by Cibaeños (and their descendants), who settled in the capital from the 1940s to the 1970s, like Piantini and La Esperilla, should also show a large European input as well.

    I bet that La Sierra region (central-west Cibao) will be the one with the highest European score; I am not sure about which region will have the highest African input (if Elías Piña, if San Pedro de Macorís, if Santo Domingo Norte), and which will have the highest Native Taino DNA scores (perhaps Monte Plata Province??).

  • Ariel H. T.

    I look forward to the results.

  • prasad

    i want to know about my real identity!
    how can i get it?

  • Maya

    I think that it’s a good thing that you are studying the people of Dominican Republic. Further research will continue to reveal a much earlier pre-Columbian migration there, and other nearby island, by sea. 11k yrs. BP.

  • Rosinedal

    Dear DZA! I read your comment and here´s my reflection on history in general. I´m afraid we all have true bastards of all kind in our ancestry, the european kings of old little more than “mafiosos” as an example, bullying people into paying them off to leave them alone. And calling it taxes! And I bet we all have ancestors that were victims of these bullies as well. African tribes were pretty good at selling slaves among themselves from what I understand, even before they started trading their “kin” with european/american slavemongers. As well as “my” ancestors, Scandinavians, were deep into trafficing to make themselves a fortune back in the day (read vikings). It is a sad part of our history but also what made each of us the person we are today and that its both horrifying and exciting. As a scandinavian, slavery (“trälar” = slaves) is a reality further back in our history but still a vital part of our genetic makeup and that is what makes this hole worldwide project so cool! Now I can actually get a hint were they all came from! I am expecting to get my answer within weeks.

  • Santos

    Jeezz, DZA, relax! It’s history. I’m a dominican born in the U.S. I have been trying to research my parents (black dominican & white dominican) ancestry for several years now. It’s very hard being that the ledgers are old and some of the pages have been damaged. My point is this, it’s an ugly part of history (every country in this world has it, still do). You can’t change the pass, you can only study it and hope not to make the same mistakes they did. But if individuals keep bringing the pass, with such negativity, as you do, we will never move forward, never learn the connection between every human being. Use that energy and focus on what’s going on right now. I look forward to this project.

  • Amaury

    When it will be published…? It has already passed 6 months.

    • We will soon be visiting DR again to reveal the results.

  • Roman Alvarez

    I just got my ethnicity DNA test and I found out besides my Africa heritage and European. I am 7% native American. This is SO amazing.

  • Martin

    I am from a campo in Dominican Republic and while this project is of great importance it won’t be completely accurate because each region in DR has its own flavor if you will. In my campo we have more Indigenous DNA because it is high up in the mountain, isolated community and the Taino words are in abundance along with food etc. I’m hoping to get my results to see what my make up is. It will be interesting but I already know from tradition and the story that were passed down from many generations in my family.

  • Marcos

    Hi, Miguel,

    After waiting for almost eight weeks, I finally received my Geno 2.0 results today, and I am fascinated by them. One of the reasons why I selected The Genographic Project to have my DNA tested is that the project conducted a study in the Dominican Republic, my country of birth and where I trace my roots back at least more than six generations.

    I noticed that the Dominican Republic is not a reference population of the project. Are there plans to add the country to the list of reference populations, given that The Genographic Project conducted a study there? Perhaps unsurprisingly given my makeup, Puerto Rico came up as my reference population.

    Several Dominican media outlets reported about the results of the study, when the team of researchers came back to Santo Domingo to share them. The figures reported by the media are confusing and the concepts for racial makeup are not clearly defined. When will The Genographic Project, Upenn, UNIBE and/or the Dominican History Academy publish any scientific papers with the results of these studies. I am eagerly awaiting them. Specifically, I want to know if the numbers reported by the Dominican media refer to the frequency with which regional DNA associations are present in the sample or whether they refer to average racial composition figures for the sample. This is still very unclear.

  • Sister Maria

    Wow. Thank you for this amazing work. Is there any way to participate in the study from outside of the Dominican Republic? Both of my parents are Dominican from the same region in El Cibao, with the same last name yet different family lines. I would be fascinated to see where the lines come together and where they split apart. Can we be a part of it? Again thank you!

  • Oscar Almonte

    Just got my results and this is so cool to find out. My parents are from DR, but I am a mixed mutt. 🙂

    My mom line is L2B…………………West Africa
    My pop line is J-PF4670…………..East Africa then travel through out Asia

    My make-up
    63% Southern Europe
    17% Western and Central Africa
    7% Native American
    4% Northern Africa
    4% Jewish Diaspora
    3% Great Britain and Ireland
    3% Southeast Asia and Oceania

  • Marcos

    Dear Mr. Villar,

    I never received a response from you or your team regarding my post from August 30, 2016 (see above). When will the Dominican Republic be added as a reference population to the project? Could you please also address the other questions raised in my previous contribution?

    Thank you in advance,

  • Ziva

    I am very interested in reading about thsoe results but I also feel compelled to comment on Dr. Paulino’s… racist… yep… I totally used the word… description of the ancestors of the Dominican Republic. Why are the peoples of Africa the “tools” ( face of shock acoompanied by the thought “”¿qué nos ha dicho? ¿no ha comparado los africanos con herramientos, no? and then furrowed brow ) and the indigenous the “noble” ( savage… that is what you are referring to… the noble savage … gasp! and face of irritation grows more) and the European colonizers “adventurers”? I actually sighed a deep sigh of sadness as I wrote that last sentence. It is ironic that with such a sad history of pigmentocracy, racism and denial of certain ancestries in the Dominican Republic that you use such ill-chosen words that reach back to deeply rooted, racist idealogies to describe anything… anything at all… ever… I think the project has the capability to unify and heal the destructive and complicated history the country has had in creating its national identity and hopefully help people learn more about themselves and… have pride in ALL their ancestors who have made them who they are. Alluding to the slaves as the tools of Africa (or really African tools) dehumanizes them and contributes to the systematic dehumanization of peoples of African heritage throughout Western history. The concept of the noble savage is entirely problematic and although saved many Amerindians thanks to Bartolome de las Casas also was a death notice for other people and was an incorrect, simplistic and racist caricature of them as well. By now, you probably regret calling the colonizers “adventurers”.
    Though that horse be dead, I wish I could insert a face in here as a comment but I cannot. Your research, as you well know, is important in so many ways, but so are the words you use in the presentation of yourself as it is related to that research. If YOU call the slaves tools and the Europeans adventurers and the Amerindian a romanticized, noble savage then what kind of impact you think you will have on the hundreds of thousands of people who will read your words? on other educators, parents, children, adults? I hope that my words and the words of DZA somewhat help you to reflect upon how you will represent ancestry and history in the future so as to give those interested in your findings an ever more accurate, just and respectful list that will function simpley as an introduction to the findings instead of phrases that make it hard to be excited about the research.
    — the long-winded, oppressed adjunct in liberal arts who loves the genographic project! 😀

  • Ziva

    There are a million little errors in that rambling comment. Please excuse them. 😉 presentation should be representaion…. so so mnay errors! lol

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