Two-hundred university students trudged through the snowy New York City streets to swab their cheeks and trace their ancient ancestry with the Genographic Project on Monday evening at the American Museum of Natural History.
Students from over eight local Universities were given the unique opportunity to test their DNA with the Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry Kit. The event was part of the New York City Student Ancestry Project, a collaboration between the City University of New York, National Geographic and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Mike Hickerson, assistant professor of biology at the City College of New York, was inspired by the Cornell Ancestry Project when 200 Cornell undergrads participated in the Genographic Project to test the genetic diversity of the Cornell campus. “People in New York City come from all over the world” said Hickerson. “It will be a good experience for the students to see how many branches of human history and humanity are still contained in their genomes.” Geno 2.0 Kits were provided free of charge to the students thanks to a grant awarded to Hickerson from the National Science Foundation.
The evening began with a welcome from Rob DeSalle, the Curator of Entomology at AMNH and Hickerson, head of the New York City Student Ancestry Project. Genographic Project Director Spencer Wells then gave an overview of the Genographic Project and invited the students to swab. The students, who had registered weeks in advance, some of which were participating as part of their university courses, lined up to swab. Genographic staff and volunteers explained the collection, analysis and result processes. By swabbing, the students will join more than 650,000 people from 130 Countries around the world that have already participated in the project.
“I found the experience really fascinating. It was nice to hear some of the background behind the project and its success in drawing the attention of genealogists and non-scientific crowds alike,” commented Columbia University Junior, Katie Garcia. “It really is wonderful that such an experience is made available to college students, who in the larger scheme of things really are in a sense just trying to figure out who they are for themselves.”
Amanda Salinas, also a student at Columbia University, described her excitement to participate: “I had been looking forward to the event and discovering my ancient ancestry for months. Attending the lecture and finding out the true scope and benefits of the research made me feel honored to be a part of such a globally significant initiative; it’s truly a unifying project. I have no idea what my results will be, but I an more than anxious to find out.”
In short, now that the students have swabbed, their DNA will be sent to the Genographic Project lab for extraction, amplification, and genotyping with the new GenoChip. The GenoChip tests each participant for more than 150,000 non-medical mutational spots in their DNA that are known to be ancestry informative markers, or AIMs. Project scientists then use these AIMs to ascertain the participants maternal and paternal lineages, assessed from mitochondrial and Y-Chromosome DNA respectively, as well as the estimated level of geographic admixture of each student as assessed from the rest of their genome. The students will also learn how much Neanderthal DNA they carry, which often ranges from 1% to more than 5% of modern human DNA. The results will be available in approximately six to eight weeks. Meanwhile, classroom discussions surrounding the implications of genetic testing will continue, complimenting the swab event.
The students are invited back to AMNH in April for a concluding event where the Genographic Project will “reveal” their collective results and conduct a panel discussion by leading geneticists. In the meantime, the students can track the status of their samples and, once analyzed, see their personal results on the Genographic website.