As part of the current presentation of The Genographic Project, a study sponsored by National Geographic and IBM is attempting to trace the human migration routes throughout history. Sitting astride anthropology and genetics, this is high-scale research: for five years, ten laboratories worldwide will work together with the same methodology to analyze more than 100,000 DNA samples from different indigenous communities. This amount of information will allow knowing how humans occupied our planet since they first ventured out of Africa, more than 60,000 years ago.
Lluís Quintana-Murci is one of the participants in this mega project. Born in Palma de Mallorca, he presently works at the Pasteur Institute of Paris andspecializes in human population genetics, a discipline that studies the evolution and the changes undergone by human DNA since its origins. Under the suggestive title Past, present and future of our species, this Majorquian researcher offered his views on 18 October 2005 in the lecturing cycleScience in Europe, organized jointly by Aula El País and the Esteve Foundation.
One of the great findings in human population genetics was proving theabsence of different races in our species, thus scientifically demonstrating the uselessness of racism. Because our genome results from multiple transformations, looking back at our ancestors is like opening a box of surprises. Indeed, while the similarities we share are many, big differences are also evidenced.
Population genetics, however, not merely reveals the true history of our species, as predicted by Lluís Quintana-Murci in the title of his presentation.This discipline also leads to understand the underlying causes of many genetic illnesses, such as arteriosclerosis or diabetes, and to characterize population-related differences with regard to these disorders. Why is the Afro-American population so prone to obesity and cardiovascular problems? What is the relationship between Y chromosome and testicular cancer? These are some of the topics likely to be answered by the study of human gene evolution.