April 02, 2007

Spencer Wells Interview

Via GNXP a link to an interview by Spencer Wells. The interesting bits:
The data are sent to a central database created by IBM. They supplied the server, which is sitting in the basement of National Geographic. They have given everybody laptops with biometric [i.e., fingerprint] recognition so that only the PIs can access to the database. We are working closely with their computational biology team on analyzing the data. So some of our first publications, which are starting to go into the journals now, are coming through that group.


We are expanding the survey of whole mitochondria genomes in Africa. We've doubled the size of that database and it's revealing interesting mitochondrial patterns. That effort has been spearheaded by Doron Behar in Haifa.

People tend to ignore what went on within Africa. There is this inherent bias in European and Asian scientists that we've “done” Africa and then things got interesting when we [humans] left, but of course there was still a lot going on within Africa. We're looking at routes people might have taken out of Africa and back migration into Africa. Information that is coming out, in part, from an expedition I organized in 2005 to the Tibesti mountains in Chad, up on the Libyan border.


We've gotten some fascinating results and a lot of e-mails. For example, a Hungarian woman wrote in and said, “You've got to redo my test. You told me I'm native American or Siberian, and I know my ancestors came from Hungary—I can tell you the village they were living in in the sixteenth century.” The Hungarian language, Magyar, is actually related to languages spoken in Siberia, and this is one of the first cases where we've actually seen Siberian lineages showing up in the Hungarian population. They are there at very low frequency. We now through this project have over 350 people who are of Hungarian descent and we see these [Siberian] lineages at four to five percent on both male and female sides.

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