Ever Wonder Where Your Ancient Ancestors Lived?

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA SPECIAL ENGLISH.  I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Bob Doughty.  On our program this week, we report on a new program to help fight the disease malaria.  But first, we talk about an effort to find genetic similarities among people.

Anyone with a computer, a credit card and one hundred dollars can now learn where their ancestors lived thousands of years ago.  The National Geographic Society and International Business Machines have created a five-year project to identify the movements of ancient peoples.  A group called the Waitt Family Foundation is providing money for the Genographic Project.

Many scientists believe that human beings first developed in what is now East Africa.  Recent studies suggest that modern humans all came from a single African who lived about sixty thousand years ago.

The Genographic Project is an attempt to follow the path that led from this individual to everyone alive today.  Project scientists will attempt to follow the ancient humans who moved away from East Africa.  They say one way to do this is to study genetic material from people living today.

The National Geographic Society is offering testing materials for the Project.  Computer users with an Internet connection can order the materials from the group's Web site (www.nationalgeographic.com/genographic).  A credit card number is required.  The cost is about one hundred dollars.

The testing materials include two plastic containers and two sticks covered with cotton.  Use the sticks to rub the inside of your mouth.  Place the sticks in the containers and send them back.

Scientists in the American state of Arizona will test the genetic material on the sticks.  The findings will be compared to those of ancient human groups with similar genes.  The results will be placed on the web site.  Some of the money earned from the project will pay for other studies and aid native peoples around the world.

The tests will show what genes you share with people in other parts of the world.  The results will give you an idea of where your ancestors lived and how they changed over time.

Project scientists will use the results to create a map of the genetic connections that have been found.  They expect this to show how human beings have developed since some of them left Africa sixty thousand years ago.

Each parent provides one half of a child's deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA.  This mix creates a new genetic plan.  However, a piece of DNA called the Y chromosome is passed from father to son without changing.  Only males have the Y chromosome.  And, the Y chromosome never changes through time.  Women pass what is called mitochondrial DNA to both sons and daughters.  Mitochondrial DNA also does not change over time.

Some changes in DNA may take place naturally.  Genetic experts call such changes markers.  Geneticists can go back in time and follow a marker to when it first appeared.  In this way, they are able to tell when and where a group of people developed.

Markers make it possible for geneticists to follow the movements of human beings.  The same markers often are found in people living in one area of the world.  Project scientists say that such native groups are being lost as more people leave their traditional homelands.

Geneticists from ten countries will collect and study blood from native peoples with the clearest lines of unchanged DNA.  Such groups include the native peoples of Tanzania, Mongolia and the United States.  Project scientists say they expect to collect DNA from one hundred thousand people.  They hope to create the largest gene bank in the world.

Some geneticists have problems with the Genographic Project.  They question its plan to keep the blood of the native peoples as untreated DNA.  Because of this, the genetic material cannot be shared with other scientists.

It is possible to treat cells so they will last forever.  Project scientists say it will cost too much to do this.  They also say that some native peoples object to the idea of their cells remaining alive after they die.

Experts on privacy laws worry about what could happen to the genetic material collected by the project.  They say people taking part in the project trust the National Geographic Society to keep their genetic information safe and private.  They also say the people who provide blood need to be warned about businesses that could use the genetic information for other purposes.  Medical insurance companies, for example, might request such information.

Project officials say they have taken steps to protect the privacy of those taking part.  They say there is no way anyone will be able to link DNA in the study to any one person.  They say their scientists will use only a small part of the genetic material to get the needed information.  And, they say the project will not collect any information about an individual's health.

Spencer Wells is a geneticist who works for the National Geographic Society, in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Wells is leading the Genographic Project.  He says the Project is a way to show that all the people in the world are linked genetically.

Mr. Wells says he sees three main results for the project.  The first is to answer questions about ancient human movement and explain differences among peoples living today.  Another is to demonstrate the problems faced by native peoples around the world and perhaps stop the loss of their cultures.  The third is to educate people about the sciences of genetics and anthropology.  He says the idea that we all share some of the same ancestors may help change some people's ideas about different racial groups.

Many scientists say the Genographic Project is an exciting step in the effort to discover and understand the past.  Project officials say they consider the work to an investigation of the similarities shared by us all.


You are listening to SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English.  I'm Barbara Klein with Bob Doughty  in Washington.

The World Bank has announced a program to help fight malaria.  The international lender says the fight against the disease has been too slow and uneven.

The goal is to expand access to anti-malarial drugs and preventions such as bed nets treated with chemicals that kill mosquitoes.  Those insects spread the organism that causes an estimated five hundred million cases of malaria each year.  Most are in southern Africa.  The disease is getting more difficult to fight as the organism develops resistance to traditional treatments.

The new Global Strategy and Booster Program will include a special committee.  Its job will be to make sure that anti-malaria efforts are part of lending programs.

World Bank officials estimate that five hundred million to one thousand million dollars in spending is possible over the next five years.

The World Health Organization says malaria kills more than one million people a year.  Most of the victims are children under the age of five.  Pregnant women are also at greater risk from the disease.

Africa pays a huge economic price for malaria.  The W.H.O. says the disease costs Africa about twelve thousand million dollars a year in lost productivity.  The health agency says malaria has slowed development on the continent.

The new World Bank program also will increase help to other areas affected by malaria.  Southeast Asia has the second highest death rate from the disease.  About eight percent of malaria deaths happen in that part of the world.

Jean-Louis Sarbib is an official at the World Bank.  He says the plan is good for reducing human suffering and good for economic growth.

When adults get sick, they have to stop working.  Mr. Sarbib notes that when children and teachers become infected, education also suffers as a result of malaria.

World Bank officials say they are building on lessons learned from malaria control programs in Brazil, Eritrea, India and Vietnam.  Mr. Sarbib says much progress has been in some places, but efforts have been slower and more limited than expected.

This program was written by Nancy Steinbach and Jill Moss.  Cynthia Kirk was our producer.  I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Barbara Klein.  Join us again next week at this time for another SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

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