Five hundred advanced-placement biology and genetics students and their teachers were enthralled and enlightened by Dr. Spencer Wells' special presentation on population genetics at the KC Genetics Conference.
Participants at the April 7 conference viewed the movie, "The Journey of Man," an award-winning documentary that aired on PBS and the National Geographic Channel. The film chronicles Wells' globe-circling, DNA-gathering expeditions in 2001-02 that laid the groundwork for the Genographic Project.
Wells lecture, entitled "Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project," took participants on a tour of the globe spanning 60,000 years and tracing the migrations of our ancient ancestors using genetic signposts carried in the DNA of people living today. According to Wells, the fossil record suggests that our species evolved in Africa, and the study addresses when this evolution began. The genetic anthropology project uses molecular genetics tools to unearth clues that reveal this remarkable journey of man through biology and geography.
"We were so very fortunate to have Dr. Wells, the leading population geneticist and director of the Genographic Project, as one of our distinguished presenters," said Susie Helwig, conference organizer. "Clearly this was an outstanding opportunity for students and teachers to gain fresh insight into current scientific research."
The Genographic Project seeks to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species by using lab and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousand of people from around the world. The five-year project is a partnership lead by Wells, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and a team of international scientists along with IBM researchers.
Utilizing cutting-edge genetic and computer technology to analyze historical DNA patterns, the anonymous, non-political and non-medical project seeks to answer the questions of where we really come from and how we got to where we are today. Its primary goals are to:
- research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples of the world;
- encourage the general public to participate by purchasing the Genographic Project Public Participation Kit; and
- utilize purchase proceeds to further the research and provide funding for the Genographic Legacy Fund that supports indigenous conservation and revitalization projects.
Also participating in the program were Dr. John Lantos and Linda Netzel. Lantos, a pediatrician and John B. Francis Chair in Bioethics at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, is professor of pediatrics and associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. His topic was population genetics. Netzel, currently director of the Kansas City Crime Lab, has spent most of her career as a criminalist in the Trace Evidence Section of the laboratory tracing evidence and DNA analysis. She addressed issues related to applications for genetics in criminal justice and law enforcement.
Additional information on the Genographic Project can be found at www.nationalgeographic.com/genographic.
Steve Kraske's excellent interview of Wells aired locally on the Up to Date radio program, which you can listen to KCUR's Web site.