National Geographic's Genographic Project
My ancestors left Africa about 50,000 years ago, moving north across the Sinai Peninsula and eventually populating western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. I know this because I sent a sample of my saliva to National Geographic's Genographic Project. They extracted my DNA from the Q-Tip I'd used to swab the inside of my cheek. The mutations in my mitochondrial DNA--which is passed from mother to child--laid down signposts indicating the route my ancestors followed, starting all the way back with Mitochondrial Eve: a woman who lived in Africa between 150,000 and 170,000 years ago, to whom all humans on earth today are related.
The Genographic Project doesn't provide you with a typical family tree. I've been told that most of my recent ancestors came from Germany, England, and Denmark. The Genographic Project can't tell me if that's the case, but what it does show is how closely related I am to people in Turkey and even Central Asia, where between 15% and 20% of the female population share the same genetic mutations that I possess--relics of a common ancestor.
All of this fascinates a lover of travel like me. It also helps scientists to learn more about the history of human migration. You can order your own cheek swab kit from National Geographic, and if you choose to anonymously submit your results, they'll be entered into a database of DNA that will eventually include more than 100,000 people around the world. The most vital samples come from indigenous groups like the Inuit and the San Bushmen, whose DNA has been isolated for many generations. Proceeds from the kits that you and I purchase fund some of the most important work: grants that empower these vanishing peoples, helping to ensure that their cultures live on. Now that's something a responsible traveler can get behind.
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