Where Do I Come From?

Interpretation of natural and cultural heritage often makes us wonder, “Where do I come from?”  Especially for Americans, Canadians, Australians and the many other countries that have been cultural melting pots, history beyond the past generation or two can seem very distant. Now, helping people learn about their deepest roots has never been so easy.

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 8.42.29 AMThe National Geographic Society has been working since 2005 on an amazing program, The Genographic Project (GP). Dr. Spencer Wells is the Harvard/Stanford educated population geneticist who directs this project. His research over two decades has taken him all over the world to collect genetic information from indigenous populations.  In 2005 the public was invited to send in their genetic information in the form of cheek cells and now more than 500,000 individuals are in the database.

I have done genealogical research into my own family roots and I lose my patrilineal line in Stewart County, Tennessee due to a courthouse that burned, destroying all records. I like tracking my recent ancestors, but this is not that kind of research. The GP does not track my individual genes back through recent ancestors. Ancestry.com offers some options for those interested in genetic testing of a more specific nature. This testing also does not check for medical markers used by 23andme.com to identify inherited diseases.

The Genographic Project 2.0 uses 150,000 genetic markers identified in the GP1.0. These markers identify specific gene sequences that map the route of migration your ancestors took over the past 200,000 years.  If you have ever wondered where you come from, you’ve had the answer inside you all along. Your genetic sequence includes markers from distant communities in which your ancestors lived in the past. You have your genetic footprints in the nucleus of every cell in your body.

The price of a Genographic 2.0 test kit is $199.95 and it will take you two months to get results. A simple swab of each of your inner cheeks collects cells, which contain the chromosomes needed for testing. You swab, push the swab tip into a tiny test tube they provide to preserve the cells, slip it all into a pre-addressed envelope and send it off to the lab in Houston. Six to eight weeks later you look up your assigned number and letter code on the Internet and get the results. We sent ours off this week and now must be patient as we wait to see where it all leads. Like many families in the U.S., we are very mixed in ethnic background and have heard that we might have some Native American ancestry. Do we really? I’ll find out through this.

Teachers can get a discount for using this program educationally and a special section of the Geno 2.0 website provides resources for the classroom. A portion of the fees for the test kit goes to the Genographic Legacy Fund that assists indigenous communities in a variety of ways, a feature that we like very much.

This is a non-profit program and the Frequently Asked Questions page of the website really fills in the blanks, if you wonder why this is useful and different from other forms of genetic testing. I’ll report back on what we learn on this journey into our genetic past. Just wish I had gotten the patience gene.

– Tim Merriman

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