SportsProf

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

This Is Pretty Cool

Check this out.

Okay, so it's not directly related to sports, but it's about perhaps the longest race in the history of man. Yes, there's a little bit of a pun there, because it's about the human race.

I found out about this project on a trip to Europe last fall, when I bought National Geographic Traveler magazine (Yes, I also bought The Sporting News' College Basketball Guide). In the former was an article about the National Geographic/IBM genomics project, which seeks to collect DNA samples from 100,000 people in order to trace the roots of people with varying DNA sequences. I'm sure I'm oversimplifying this, but basically the theory goes that we're all descended from one "Eve" who lived about 150,000 years ago somewhere in Eastern Africa, and what this project does is try to trace the paths that various races took to get where they are today. (Again, I'm oversimplifying). You should click on the link and read the whole thing.

Intrigued, I signed up for a kit (which costs about $100 plus tax) and was ready to swab my cheeks and put the swab sticks into a small test tube that contained some solution and then send the kit to the project. You do this anonymously, and it takes about 6 weeks to get your results. Well, my eight year-old daughter insisted upon doing the swabbing, and right around New Year's she did just that (for the lawyering types out there, as her parent I gave the "informed consent"). We mailed the samples into a test lab, and the website that I linked to enables you to track the progress of the testing.

The kit comes with a great DVD that features genomicists and anthropologists from Stanford, and it's compelling watching. We watched the DVD on a rainy night, and I tried to explain to the kids about the roots of various people. All I basically know about my ancestors is that they hail from various parts of Europe, so that doesn't distinguish me from a lot of people.

Well, the results came back today. The good news is that they provide a journey route on a silhouette of a world map that shows you the path your ancestors took to get to where you had some certainty where they were from (by listening to grandparents and, if you were lucky enough, great grandparents). The map dispelled the concept that my father-in-law had that some ancestors were Asian, as no ancestors appears to have ventured east of Azerbajian. Some parts of the journey were predictable, but yes, the family tree begins in eastern Africa and the journey began through some parts of the Middle East. Among the stops were some places I knew, and, well, some I didn't, such as Georgia and Moldova. The whole project is fascinating, and my family and I had some fun tonight tracing the map.

The bad news is that the map is a silhouette, so you have to pull up an on-line world map to try to precisely identify the countries that your ancestors went through. I wished that they had some more precision with their own map, but with some staring at world maps and the map the project gives you, you can ballpark the countries through which your ancestors traveled.

Sports bloggers write about contests, games and races, but this project seems to chronicle the longest journey of them all. Check it out if you get the chance, and, if you have some extra money lying around and the interest, participate in the project. It's been a great family tree/genetics/science/history discussion for the family so far, and we're going to try to better identify the countries on the silhouetted map to figure out with more precision where the journey went through.

It's good stuff on cold wintry days in the Northeastern U.S.

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