By Mary Branham
Many folks have traced their roots but not many can go back 60,000 years.
That’s something Spencer Wells and the National Geographic Genographic Project are doing. Wells, a population geneticist, discussed the project during the opening plenary session Friday.
Genographic scientists collect DNA samples from people around the globe to paint the picture of human migration. Wells said using the samples, scientists are able to explain the pattern of human diversity.
His project goes much deeper than the average person tracing his or her family tree.
The Genographic Project has traced the human origin back to Africa; in fact, to three potential ancestors living at the same place at the same time, Wells said. For that reason, the project is keenly interested in indigenous peoples, he said. But that doesn’t limit the project.
“It’s the human story,” he said. “It’s not just the story of indigenous people but everybody alive.”
Wells said humans share 99.9 percent of DNA. “There’s a very low level of genetic variation,” he said. “There’s hardly any variation at all.”
In fact, Wells said the past anthropological thought highlighted the differences in races. “We’re all much more closely related than anybody ever suspected,” he said.
More than 320,000 people from 130 countries have purchased the DNA kits to participate in the project, Wells said. Part of the money from the kit sales is plowed back into the project’s Legacy Fund, which benefits indigenous and traditional communities around the world preserve their cultural legacy.
Wells said the project has touched people, prompting an interest many never expected. He believes it’s because people want to know about their ancestry—even that from tens of thousands of years ago.
“Peel away the surface and we’re all members of an extended family,” Wells said.