[image courtesy of wired]

[genography: the paths of our ancestors across the globe. image courtesy of wired dot com]

The Genographic Project, a $45 million initiative backed by National Geographic, aims at producing detailed, readable and functional maps (visual and otherwise) of the ways in which DNA has spread around the global over the past sixty thousand years. With a quarter million and growing fast volunteers hailing from the four corners from the earth, the project has already managed to map out some seriously impressive paths across the globe, the primary source of DNA being cheek swabs. You yourself can purchase a starter kit from National Geographic (follow the first link above…), send in a swab and not only discover the many paths your DNA has swept across the globe but participate in and aid this project.

Here we find corroboration that such research is necessarily and intricately intertwined with our histories. To quote,

One study by project scientists Pierre Zalloua and Chris Tyler-Smith has discovered a genetic marker typical of Europeans in modern Lebanese men. The inference is clear they say: this distinctive Y-chromosome was left behind by 11th-century Crusaders when they invaded Lebanon and then settled in the country. A similar sort of genetic legacy has been detected in regions where Gengis Khan ruled and which has been linked to the many male descendants he produced.

These conjectural highways, appropriately (or not?) designated such nomenclature as M343, M174 etc…, paths trodden out and lands rode upon time and time again, necessarily span all the continents bar the southernmost and the Genographic Project’s website has some very interesting interactive visualisations of the interplay between the genography of our multifarious landscapes and the history which is now burnt upon the land: the appropriately named (yes) Globe of Human History and Atlas of the Human Journey.

I would like to see this coupled with Ben Fry’s Genome Valence, which visualises genes themselves, in the sense that it maps out the different sequences of nucleic acids which can occur in various organisms:

[from genome valence, courtesy of ben fry]

[image courtesy of ben fry]

Since 99.9% of the three billion nucleotides which make up the human gemone are the same, what i suggest is an evolving interactive globe showing the paths traced out by all our ancestors, along with imagery capturing data sets which encapsulate those slight variations, that 0.1% which make us all so very different, these superimposed perhaps when your mouse hovers above a particular location at a particular point in time, varying as earth revolves and as the timeline oscillates between then and now. Palimpsests of genetic data fading in and out, meaningful, retrievable.

 

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