Building the Family Tree of Humankind


I am confident that each of you has been asking himself, at least once, questions on his genetic roots. Why do I look the way I do? Where did my gene pool originate? If you have, then you will be interested in the story I am about to tell you and in what I believe to be one of the most intriguing scientific projects of all times. Skeptical? Allow me a few more paragraphs to convince you.

Evolution is one of those topics, which could entertain me for hours. I deal with the evolution of enzymes and proteins at a molecular level every day, but unfortunately, I am far less involved in conversations concerning human evolution. Nevertheless, a few months ago a friend introduced me to the

The Genographic team base their work on the observation that our genetic information, stored in the form of a code in our cells (our DNA), is passed down from generation to generation. This is the way in which we inherit our traits from our parents. The way the information is transferred is quite complex because, during the process, the parental code undergoes some random shuffling, making it difficult to track its origins backward. However, there are parts of the genetic code that are passed on as they are, without shuffling: the DNA contained in the Y chromosome for the male and the mitochondrial DNA for the female: these are the parts of the codes that the scientists in the project are interested in studying. Furthermore, every time that the parental information is given to the next generation, some “typos” (mistakes under the form of mutations, generally harmless), as Dr. Wells calls them, may occur in the code and, once they happen, they are transmitted unaltered to every future descendant. These “typos” —> Read More