‘Because all modern genes are copies of those in earlier generations, each can be used as a message from the past. They bring clues from the beginnings of humanity more than a hundred thousand years ago and from the origin of life three thousand million years before that…’ Steve Jones, the Language of the Genes, HarperCollins, 1993

“From a genetic perspective, all humans are therefore Africans, either residing in Africa or in recent exile." Dr Svante Paabo, Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, 2001

‘During their dispersal from Africa, our ancestors were exposed to new environments and diseases. Those who were better adapted to local conditions passed on their genes, including those conferring these benefits, with greater frequency. This process of natural selection left signatures in our genome that can be used to identify genes that might underlie variation in disease resistance or drug metabolism. These signatures are, however, confounded by population history and by variation in local recombination rates. Although this complexity makes finding adaptive polymorphisms a challenge, recent discoveries are instructing us how and where to look for the signatures of selection.’ Nature, 2003

‘Knowledge from the Human Genome Project and research on human genome variation increasingly challenges the applicability of the term 'race' to human population groups, raising questions about the validity of inferences made about 'race' in the biomedical and scientific literature. Despite the acknowledged contradictions in contemporary science, population-based genetic variation is continually used to explain differences in health between 'racial' and 'ethnic' groups. In this commentary we posit that resolution of apparent paradoxes in relating biology to 'race' and genetics requires thinking 'outside of the box'.’ Changing the paradigm from 'race' to human genome variation, Charmaine D M Royal & Georgia M Dunston, Nature, 2004

New DNA evidence suggests "African Eve", the 150,000-year-old female  ancestor of every person on Earth, may have lived in Tanzania or Ethiopia.  Fossil remains of A. afarensis ("Lucy"), a possible human ancestor, were found at Hadar, Ethiopia. A genetic study has shown that the oldest known human DNA lineages are those of East Africans. The most ancient populations include the Sandawe, Burunge, Gorowaa and Datog people who live in Tanzania. Researchers found a very high amount of genetic variation, or diversity, between the mitochondrial DNA of different individuals in these populations. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down exclusively through the maternal line. The longer a population has existed, the more variation accumulates in its DNA lineages. "They are showing really deep, old lineages with lots of diversity. They appear to be the oldest lineages identified in Africa to date,"  said Dr Sarah Tishkoff, of the University of Maryland, US, who led the research. The so-called African Eve represents the ancestral mitochondrial genome that gave rise to all the different types seen in people  today. Several of the ethnic groups sampled in the study also live in  countries surrounding Tanzania. "It's entirely consistent with what we expected," said Dr Spencer Wells, a geneticist and author. "All the evidence is pointing to East Africa as the cradle of humanity." Dr Wells added that the data ties in well with archaeological evidence of a long occupation of East Africa by modern humans and hominids. But Professor Ulf Gyllensten, a molecular biologist at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, was cautious about claims that the oldest DNA lineages were confined to East Africa.  "I wouldn't be surprised if Dr Tishkoff has found old lineages there, but I think we're just skimming the surface," he said. "Too little research has been done in Africa to get a clear picture. I don't know why, because it's clear there is a great resource of genetic diversity there," added Professor Gyllensten.’ Paul Rincon, BBC News, 2003

So, here’s something every ignorant white racist should know

So, here’s something every ignorant white

racist should know, right to his molecules;

black people are the purest blood of all -

true first children of the Earth, Universe;

diluted over the planet from the first home

in Africa, still black with the original mark

of civilisation, humanity; rising slowly

from water and earth in God’s image -

and their suffering, turned to music,

was the holiest of sounds; flying up

to Heaven like a metaphor of doves,

trembling even the impassive stars -

God and angels laying down lyres

to listen; weeping, clapping hands.

‘Race is a largely non-biological concept confounded by misunderstanding and a long history of prejudice. The relationship of genomics to the concepts of race and ethnicity has to be considered within complex historical and social contexts.Most variation in the genome is shared between all populations, but certain alleles are more frequent in some populations than in others, largely as a result of history and geography. Use of genetic data to define racial groups, or of racial categories to classify biological traits, is prone to misinterpretation. To minimize such misinterpretation, the biological and sociocultural factors that interrelate genetics with constructs of race and ethnicity need to be better understood and communicated within the next few years.This will require research on how different individuals and cultures conceive of race, ethnicity, group identity and self-identity, and what role they believe genes or other biological factors have. It will also require a critical examination of how the scientific community understands and uses these concepts in designing research and presenting findings, and of how the media report these. Also necessary is widespread education about the biological meaning and limitations of research findings in this area, and the formulation and adoption of public-policy options that protect against genomics-based discrimination or maltreatment.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research, US National Human Genome Research Institute, 2003

We are all black in our genes

Here’s something else every ignorant white

racist should know, right to his molecules -

we are all black in our original genes -

some bleached by time, huge distance

from Africa; turned moonlight

from burning sun-skin colours,

or maybe some milky locals

in the mix, human cauldron.

Our Genome speaks of Earth’s children -

one mother, root, brotherhood and union;

colour and nation as meaning division,

we have simply invented by ourselves.

‘The researchers at Celera Genomics Corp., however, are using different sets of DNA they collected themselves, from unidentified people; three women, two men, and including people of Hispanic, Asian, caucasian and African-American background. "We did that to help illustrate the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis," Venter explained. In the Celera genomes, "there's no way to tell one ethnicity from another”.’ Robert Cooke, Newsday, 2003

Racism is an illogical concept

Racism is an illogical concept -

tired, limping old non-sequitur;

a mental insult to our rationality

run amok in the physical world.

But the Human Genome is risen

from the shadows of ignorance -

as cradling nursery of mankind;

symbolically golden, sparkling,

she has no colour, just one skin,

as a communal code of brothers.

Racism is impossible - for

whoever names skin colour

derogatorily, without respect,

is also disrespecting himself;

his same skin under the surface,

a fundamentally communal skin

at the molecular level;

at his very root, heart –

for genetically we are all one,

brothers, sisters; blood family.



One people, one family;

bound in our humanity -

true siblings of one mother,

older even than first human

mother, maternal worm

or amoeba. All linked -

intertwined like endless dancers

who danced down from broken

stars, spooling in a silver chain,

the chemical embrace of DNA.

From the black holes of our bellies

we come, on and on into life, light.

‘A project spanning five continents is aiming to map the history of human migration via DNA. The Genographic Project will collect DNA samples from over 100,000 people  worldwide to help piece together a picture of how the Earth was colonised. Samples gathered from indigenous people and the general public will be subjected to lab and computer analysis to extract the valuable genetic data. Team leader Dr Spencer Wells calls the plan "the Moon shot of anthropology". The $40m (£21m) privately funded initiative is a collaboration between National Geographic, IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation charity. Participating in the five-year study are some of the world's top population geneticists, as well as leading experts in the fields of ancient DNA, linguistics and archaeology. "We see this as a resource for humanity going into the future. It could potentially become the largest genetic database ever created," Dr Wells told the BBC News website. Members of the public will be able to buy a kit that contains all the material needed to add their genetic information to the database. Already, evidence from genetics and archaeology places the origin of modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. It is thought, the first moderns to leave the continent set off around 60,000 years ago. By studying the Y (or male) chromosome and mitochondrial DNA (which is passed down exclusively on the maternal line), scientists have pieced together a broad-brush picture of which populations moved where in the world - and when. What is lacking, says Wells, is the fine detail, which could be filled in by this large-scale project…"There are still many questions we haven't answered. Was there any interbreeding with Neanderthals as modern humans moved into Europe? Did any of the migrations to the Americas come across the Pacific - or even the Atlantic?" These and other unanswered questions form the research goals of the project. They include: Who are the oldest populations in Africa - and therefore the world? Did Alexander the Great's armies leave a genetic trail? Who were the first people to colonise India? Is it possible to obtain intact DNA from the remains of Homo erectus and other extinct hominids? How has colonialism affected genetic patterns in Africa? Was there any admixture with Homo erectus as modern humans spread throughout South-East Asia? Is there any relationship between Australian Aboriginal genetic patterns and their oral histories? What are the origins of differences between human groups? A total of 10 DNA collection centres located around the world will focus on obtaining samples from indigenous peoples. The genetic markers in the blood of these groups have remained relatively unchanged for generations. "Sub-Saharan Africa harbours the spectrum of variation that will allow us to trace the very origin of our species as well as more recent incursions," said Himla Soodyall, principal project investigator for that region.’ Paul Rincon, Science Reporter, BBC News, 2005

The Genographic Project

Physical map of mankind - his geographical journeys,

interior interreactions with the environment - charted,

recorded in the glittering chemistries of organic story,

chapter and verse. From which earth came this eye -

decoding sunset into peace, aesthetic joy, exultation,

that even thousands of years later has no tag, name -

biological explanation. How did the toed foot develop

by these rocks that would one day walk on the Moon -

who looked up and dreamt that day could come, hoped

he would guddle his hands among those stars; looking for God,

panning the heavens with certainty, losing words, confidence –

deep in the Genome’s sparkling, dispositional net - a lost poem.

There are no recordings of feet upon water, except Jesus or water

boatmen walking on buoyant molecules, physical density of shine;

what mark upon trees where haired hands touched the hot potential

of fire; saw faces, eyes in the wood, long, diversified limbs.

What prints upon the earth - assimilations into DNA - each

line of poetry; each smell, death, warning, coupling, for one

poem that cannot be read until the end of all life, peoples.

Witness green-eyed ghost-beauty of Alexander the Great

in astounding geographical locations - when he is dust of

dust, memory; a chapter in a tinier book. What will the books

of native peoples say of those injustices that took their land -

health, prosperity, tried to steal their dignity; but of survival,

genetic fires that could rise, re-kindling that trademark nobility,

wisdom - in tune with Earth; better, innate understanding of the

Genome’s truth about animals, flora - a communality with trees,

river life, and the breathing mother of blue sea. What wandering

will we see - spinning, webbing - thrown - the Big Human Bang,

from Africa; a slow flesh explosion rippling from the global seed,

human time-bomb; that was born for harmony and peace - fruits

of brotherhood. This old map will be criss-crossed, embroidered

with golden threads - silent feet re-heard, established, respected;

some injustices of history righted, a digital monument created,

in honouring our common origin - simple truth of our kinship;

all rising from the red dust of Africa, via water, stars and God.

‘But some researchers said experience on other projects suggested this one could run into trouble with indigenous groups - particularly those, such as Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, with a history of exploitation. "I don't know how they'll deal with getting samples from more sensitive places," commented François Balloux, a population geneticist at the University of Cambridge, UK. Amongst Australian Aborigines and Native Americans, the cultural resistance to co-operating with scientists is very strong. "For example, many Native American communities are strongly advised by their elders not to give samples." Ajay Royyuru, IBM's lead scientist on the Genographic Project was optimistic on the issue. "We want to attract their participation by being extremely clear about what we do and do not do. For example, we are very clear about not trying to exploit their genetic diversity for medical uses," he told the BBC News website. Project directors said they had already sought advice from indigenous leaders about their participation. IBM says it will use sophisticated analytical techniques to interpret the information in the biobank and find patterns in the genetic data. The IT giant will also provide the computing infrastructure for the project. Kits sold to the public contain cheek swabs used to scrape the inside of the mouth for a DNA sample. The swabs can then be mailed to a central laboratory for analysis. After four to six weeks, the results of the analysis will appear on the website behind an anonymous password contained in the kit. The exact budget available for the study will depend on how many test kits are sold to the public. The net proceeds will go back into the research and into a "legacy project" to support indigenous peoples. The Genographic Project's directors emphasise that the information in the database will be made accessible to scientists studying human migrations. "We see this as part of the commons of our species. We're not going to be patenting anything - the information will all be in the public domain," said Dr Wells.’ Paul Rincon, Science Reporter, BBC News, 2005

From this swab of my cheek

From this swab of my cheek - a history.

Fabulously detailed, volume on volume

in a saliva smear. One dust mote caught -

mailed, tells the story of my whole family,

ancestors; right back through the human line

to all mammals, even our wee mother shrew,

and so on - into the sea, fish - nameless ones;

some confabulation of earth and water - star-

dust - some energy exploding in the heavens,

which would one day write this; then sending

the cultured product of our lives for analysis -

read of itself from the future, while shivering.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    The Human Genome Project
    – Public versus private
    Gene Patenting
    Blood Poems
        Genomic Co-operation
    Holy-Moley-More God!

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