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Global Field Research
Introduction   |   Genographic Story   |   Global Field Research
The Genographic Legacy Fund   |   Public Participation   |   IBM's Role  


It Takes a Planet

It takes a Planet Gathering DNA samples and field research with indigenous populations is central to the project. DNA from indigenous populations contains key genetic markers that have remained relatively unaltered over hundreds of generations, and are reliable indicators of ancient migratory patterns. The project's goal is to obtain samples from a substantial number of indigenous groups worldwide and then compile these samples' electronic signatures into the Genographic Project's centralized DNA Analysis Repository.

Ten regional teams, located in Australia, Brazil, China, France, India, Lebanon, Russia, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom, collect, process and analyze the data.

The regional teams, headed by leading geneticists, collaborate with one another, sharing ideas, knowledge and best practices. Each team is responsible for:

  • Organizing their data collection expeditions.
  • Applying for relevant governmental and institutional approvals.
  • Processing the genetic samples.
  • Performing anthropological analyses.
  • Transmitting the consolidated electronic data to the Genographic Project's central repository.

An international advisory board, comprised of indigenous representatives, leading scientists, ethicists and the partner organizations, oversee the collaboration with the indigenous populations who participate in the DNA sampling. The board enforces strict sampling and research protocols relative to the project.

Working on global projects and connecting local teams is a challenge IBM meets every day. By offering tools to support information gathering and providing collaboration solutions, the Genographic Project teams can now gather and process data more quickly and accurately.

From the field teams' use of a customized data collection solution, based around a ThinkPad® T42, to the project's DNA Analysis Repository, IBM has connected the members of the global team so they may exchange ideas and information at a truly unprecedented level.

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In The Field

In the Field IBM has transformed the art of the expedition with advanced technology. Field researchers are equipped with T42 ThinkPad® notebooks loaded with a data-gathering application designed by IBM and the Genographic Project's principal investigators, and custom-built by IBM's emerging technologies team. Access to this field collection system is secured through the use of biometric, fingerprint recognition technology built into the laptop.

Customized field software captures the phenotypic or "context" data of DNA samples on a given expedition. Dozens of languages and regions are acknowledged while cross-populating other fields with related data, making collecting for a group of people in the same region much faster and more accurate.

IBM's Computational Biology Center (CBC) team acts as the Genographic Project's analytical arm. Led by Dr. Ajay Royyuru, the CBC team brings IBM Research's advanced life science-oriented data mining tools and algorithms to bear on the massive amount of data provided from both the field teams and the general public.

This process will take place over a period of five years. The resulting public database will house one of the largest collections of human genetic information ever assembled and will serve as an unprecedented resource for geneticists, historians and anthropologists.

Indigenous groups are invited to collaborate in the project through the regional principal investigators. These indigenous communities are fully consulted on the project's purpose and processes, and must provide informed consent before any samples are obtained by the Genographic Project team.

At any time during the project, a volunteer may request that his or her sample be destroyed. The Genographic Project takes the collaboration with indigenous communities extremely seriously and is continuously working to clearly communicate the project's goals and methodologies.

Public participation is handled in a similar fashion. Public participation kit samples are tested for about a dozen non-medical genetic markers and cannot be used for any other purpose than genetic anthropology. As the sample is processed, the results are made available through a secure login that can only be accessed through the use of the unique Genographic Project I.D. number provided with the participation kit.

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The Team

The Team The Genographic Project is led by Dr. Spencer Wells, a leading population geneticist in using DNA to study history and human migration. Working with Dr. Wells are researchers from IBM's Computational Biology Center, itself a leader in life sciences-oriented information technology research. Together, they are working with a global team of prominent research scientists from ten research centers around the world.

All activities are overseen by an advisory board of internationally recognized experts in indigenous advocacy, genetics, linguistics, archaeology, paleontology, cultural anthropology and ethics.

The Genographic Project's regional principal investigators were selected not only because of their scientific expertise, but also because of their experience and relationships with local indigenous communities and their representatives.

Backing the scientific investigators is a worldwide team of communications and technology professionals whose passion for this initiative matches that of their scientific colleagues.

Our collective goal is to ensure the project is completed with the highest level of integrity while providing deep insights into humanity's ancient history.

"We see this as the 'moon shot' of anthropology, using genetics to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of human history," said Dr. Spencer Wells. "Our DNA carries a story that is shared by everyone. Over the next five years we'll be deciphering that story, which is now in danger of being lost as people migrate and mix to a much greater extent than they have in the past."

The task of gathering genetic and associated data into a combined format that is usable by scientists and researchers remains daunting in its complexity. Bringing scientific expeditions into the modern era is an example of IBM's core value of driving innovation that matters to the world.

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Science and Technology

Science and Technology A haplogroup consists of individuals with consistent genetic marker patterns.

Specific markers in our DNA indicate to which haplogroup we belong and reveal our individual deep ancestry. As the project advances throughout its five-year term, we hope to make further progress in our understanding of humanity's migration across the planet, and will be transferring that knowledge at ever greater levels of detail for each haplogroup.

As more data is gathered and analyzed, we will all learn more about our collective and individual pasts, making this project an ongoing adventure.

Phenotypic data collected in the field using T42 ThinkPad® notebooks and the associated DNA samples are brought to any one of ten worldwide sites for analysis. Once the genetic samples have been sequenced, the electronic sample output, merged with the associated cultural or phenotypic data gathered in the field, is securely transmitted for final analysis at the Genographic Project's DNA Analysis Repository at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC.

Scientists then use advanced analytical technologies and data sorting techniques to interpret the samples and to discover new patterns that can tell us more about human history.

Samples are analyzed for genetic markers found in either mitochondrial DNA or the Y chromosome, depending upon gender. The cheek swab test is not conventional genealogy. Your results will not write the names of forgotten ancestors on your personal family tree or tell you where your great-grandparents lived. Rather, they will indicate the maternal or paternal genetic markers that your ancestors bequeathed to you thousands of years ago, which chart your remote ancestors' migratory journeys and indicate from which branch you fall into on the global family tree.

If you choose to add your results to the research database, your profile can help build a greater understanding of all of our origins.

Our data analytics capability was one of the primary strengths that drew National Geographic Society to approach IBM as the Genographic Project's lead partner.

IBM is providing the core computational knowledge and infrastructure that will manage the hundreds of thousands of genotypic codes being analyzed by the Genographic Project. Our field collection technology is revolutionizing the Genographic geneticists' ability to collect, manage, store and securely transmit background data on sample participants in every corner of the globe.

This commitment to providing leading-edge technology to this project is a clear example of IBM's core value: innovation that matters to the world.

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