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Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Human Family Tree


For centuries, people have wondered about our existence. Where did we come from? How did we get to where we are today? This kind of self-reflection has founded religions and spurred the greatest achievements in science. But only recently have we had the technology to truly trace backward and unravel the mystery of our origins. We have discovered our ancestors, and found clues as to how and when we branched from the other primates. But what about after that? How did we go from a small group of hominids in East Africa to a globally dominating species?

Enter Kevin Bacon.

No, seriously.

Tomorrow, Aug 30th, the National Geographic Channel premiers The Human Family Tree. With the combined funding of Nat Geo and IBM, one group of researchers, led by geneticist Dr. Spencer Wells, have spent the past four years collecting DNA samples from people all over the world. They set out hoping to get an ambitious 100,000 samples, but have now looked at genes from 350,000 people to determine their ancestry and when and how people populated the globe. They do this by mapping minute changes in our genomes. While we might be almost entirely alike genetically - after all, we're 99.9% the same - the small differences between us can tell a fascinating story.



It's fitting that The Human Family Tree is narrated by the talented Kevin Bacon, who, as well as being known for his acting ability, is the classic example used to show how interconnected people are using 'six degrees of separation'. Through the Human Family Tree, we really see how interconnected people are.

Through the two hour special, we learn all sorts of interesting facts about our history. Our homeland - Africa - is still the most genetically diverse place for us on the planet. Bacon and Wells take us all over the world, recreating the trails our ancestors blazed to spread from Africa to Asia, Europe, and eventually, the New World. Bacon is a great narrator, and really drives home the message that in the big scheme of things, we're all related.

Be sure to tune in to the National Geographic Channel this Sunday, Aug 30th at 9 PM ET/PT. The Human Family Tree is a fascinating special that you won't want to miss! But if you're more of a "doer", you can become a part of the science and get your own ancestry test kit. Proceeds from the sales of the kits will help support the Genographic Project and additional research as well as education, cultural conservation, and language revitalization efforts for indigenous and traditional communities around the world.

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