Dr. Spencer Wells on Collecting Genetic Data Around the World
Spencer Wells is a leading population geneticist and director of the Genographic Project from National Geographic and IBM. His fascination with the past has led the scientist, author, and documentary filmmaker to the farthest reaches of the globe in search of human populations who hold the history of humankind in their DNA. By studying humankind's family tree he hopes to close the gaps in our knowledge of human migration.
Wells's own journey of discovery began as a child whose zeal for history and biology led him to the University of Texas, where he enrolled at age 16, majored in biology, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa three years later. He then pursued his Ph.D. at Harvard University under the tutelage of distinguished evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin.
His landmark research findings led to advances in the understanding of the male Y chromosome and its ability to trace ancestral human migration. Wells then returned to academia where, at Oxford University, he served as director of the Population Genetics Research Group of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford.
Following a stint as head of research for a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, Wells made the decision in 2001 to focus on communicating scientific discovery through books and documentary films. From that was born The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, an award-winning book and documentary that aired on PBS in the U.S. and National Geographic Channel internationally. Written and presented by Wells, the film chronicled his globe-circling, DNA-gathering expeditions in 2001-02 and laid the groundwork for the Genographic Project.
Topic: Dr. Spencer Wells on Collecting Genetic Data Around the World
Spencer Wells: You know, we’re building on the work of many, many people, particularly the work of the man who was my post doctoral advisor at Stanford, Lucca Cavalli-Sforza who really kind of created the field of human population genetics, starting back in the 1950s, studying blood groups and other so called classical polymorphisms, these are protein variance and cell surfaces like the blood groups and, you know, so studying things that were studyable in those days before the DNA era before, you know, molecular genetics really came along and he started to ask questions like, you know, does this genetic information tell us something about how human populations are related and yes it did but it was kinda vague. And it was really only with the era of DNA sequencing which came about in the 1980s that people could start to get out some of the details of this.
Recorded on: Mar 15 2008
Wells uses the latest microbiological techniques to accomplish his genographic mission.
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