The Genographic Team has been in New Zealand this week, working with people of Pacific as well as European and other heritages to trace their genetic history. Each person does this by just rubbing a cotton swab inside his or her cheek. We will then take the tiny resulting DNA sample and compare it with the Genographic database, revealing the person’s place on the human family tree. In all our sampling sessions, we’ve gotten close to the incredibly diverse groups of people we’ve encountered.
An earlier post talked about meeting the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri community near Gisborne, New Zealand. After saying farewell to our new friends there, the team migrated south to the city of Wellington, a vibrant city on the North Island’s southeastern tip, the capitol (and unofficial arts center) of New Zealand.
Collaborating with the Allan Wilson Centre, we invited one hundred Wellington area residents to participate in the Genographic Project by swabbing with the latest version of our kit, “Geno 2.0,” to add their DNA to the project’s worldwide effort to better understand human history and migration. This event complimented the fieldwork of Lisa Matisoo-Smith’s (the Genographic Project Principal Investigator in the Oceania region) current work across New Zealand.
Genographic Project Director, Spencer Wells, and Lisa Matisoo-Smith opened up the evening giving an overview of the Genographic Project with a regionalized focus on New Zealand. The talk also highlighted the Geno 2.0 DNA results of two special invitees of the evening: Gary Wilson and Richard Brooking.
Richard Brooking is the Chief Executive of the Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and was the Genographic Project’s team host in Gisborne earlier in the week. Richard belonged to Y chromosome haplogroup R1b, the most common group from Western Europe, and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup B4a1a1, also known as the Polynesian Motif. This branch of the mitochondrial tree is thought to have been carried by the ancestors to most modern Polynesians when embarking on expeditions of discovery and exploration as they found and settled nearly every island in the Pacific. Richard’s type is specifically found only in eastern Polynesia, and points to the fact that New Zealand shares a prehistoric past with the Cook and Austral islands, but also Hawai’i and Easter Island.
Gary Wilson is a journalist and brother to late Allan Wilson, one of the forefathers of the field of anthropological genetics and the namesake of the Allan Wilson Centre. Gary, and therefore also his brother Allan, belonged to mitochondrial DNA haplogroup K, a common genetic clan found in the Middle East, but also central and eastern Europe. His Y chromosome haplogroup was a British Isles branch of haplogroup R1b.
Earlier, Spencer and Lisa discussed the Genographic Project with 200 Wellington High School students at St Mary’s College. After learning about the Genographic Project and Lisa’s regional scientific research, the audience asked questions such as “In a few hundred years, do you expect to see radical changes in the human genome?” (Anna from Wellington High School) and “Can mitochondrial DNA be altered?” (Jordan from St. Bernard’s College in Lower Hutt, NZ). Jan Szydlowski, a teacher from Onslow College in Wellington, NZ, wondered, “Are people of different cultures accepting or in disbelief of these ancestral stories you are describing?”
Next stop for the Genographic team is back home to the National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC. We have to admit that we are sad to leave our new friends and stunning New Zealand. Stay tuned as we analyze the new results and report back to our new Genographic Project participants.
Learn how you can take part in this global effort at www.Genographic.com.