The Genographic Project, launched on 13 April 2005 by the National Geographic Society and IBM, is a multi-year genetic anthropology study that aims to map historical human migration patterns by collecting and analyzing DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.
Field researchers at 11 regional centers around the world collect DNA samples from indigenous populations. The project also sells self-testing kits of Phase II "Geno2.0" testing anyone in the world can order a kit with which a mouth scraping (buccal swab) is obtained, analyzed and the DNA information placed on an Internet accessible to the userpassword database. In the first phase of the project, genetic markers onY and X chromosomes were used to trace the participant's distant ancestry, and each customer is provided with their genetic history via a secure website. With the new Geno 2.0 test, nearly 150,000 genetic markers from across the entire genome are examined, with the results delivered via an updated website. As of 2013 some 600,000 people have contributed their DNA, and the success of the project has spawned a broader interest in direct-to-consumer genetic testing.
The Genographic Project is undertaking widespread consultation with indigenous groups from around the world. Genographic Project public participation kits are processed by Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) in Houston, Texas.
The project is a privately funded, not-for-profit collaboration between the National Geographic Society, IBM and the Waitt Foundation. Part of the proceeds from the sale of self-testing kits support the Genographic Project's ongoing DNA collection, but the majority are ploughed into a Legacy Fund to be spent on cultural preservation projects nominated by indigenous communities.
Use of genetic markers
The Genographic Project relies on the identification of genetic markers. Most human DNA is a shuffled combination of genetic material passed down the generations. There are, however, parts of the human genome that pass unshuffled from parent to child. These segments of DNA are only changed by occasional mutations—random spelling mistakes in the genetic code. When these spelling mistakes are passed down to succeeding generations, they become markers of descent.
Different populations have different genetic markers, and by following them through the generations scientists are able to identify the different branches of the human tree, all the way back to their common African root. Indigenous populations provide geographical and cultural context to the genetic markers in their DNA. These clues can help recreate past migration patterns.