National Geographic : 2009 Sep
50,000 years ago 40,000 Present 20,000 30,000 10,000 2 Southeast Asia 6 Siberia 18 East Africa 22 East Asia 1 South Asia 13 Central Asia 30 The Americas 2 Total Sample 193 volunteers Southern Europe 10 Middle East 54 Northern Europe 33 West Africa 4 South Asia Middle East The Astoria section of Queens, New York, is one of the most ethnically diverse communities on Earth. At the 30th Avenue Street Festival in July 2008, people of all heritages and complexions mingled among booths offering up Thai charms and Peruvian sweaters, Mexican corn and Italian zeppole. The sun was hot, the mood merrily multicultural. Through the crowd walked a tall, blond man with pale skin rapidly turning red. He stopped occasionally to talk to people, and if he found them obliging, asked if they could spare a few cells from the inside of their cheeks. For the past four years Spencer Wells and his colleagues with National Geographic and IBM's Genographic Project have been traveling the globe, collecting DNA in cheek swabs and blood samples from hundreds of indigenous groups. By comparing their DNA, the project has been retracing the ancient history of human migrations since our species originated in Africa some 200,000 years ago. The Genographic Project focuses on the Y chromosome in males, which is handed down intact from father to son, and on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which a mother passes to her offspring. Over generations, small, harmless mutations accumulate on these two snippets of DNA; to Wells and other scientists these genetic markers constitute a history book. As ancient human populations migrated out of Africa, GRAPHIC: OLIVER UBERTI AND M. BRODY DITTEMORE, NG STAFF PHOTOS: STEVE WINTER Michelle Brown-Johnston Alma Mujezinovic Atsushi Mizukami Pedro Aguilar Four-fifths have lineages that traversed the Middle East. Most of those lineages branched into other regions before arriving, much more recently, in Queens.