Sequencing human history -- The genetics and commerce of personal ancestry

February 16, 2007

(WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2007) -- As citizens of a vibrant melting pot, Americans increasingly turn to genetic testing companies to discover their roots. Some merely confirm what they already suspect; others receive surprising information about their ancestral origins.

Our DNA contains molecular footprints that provide clues about the migratory paths our ancestors traveled over thousands of generations. Scientists study this DNA to uncover the geographical origins of our species and trace human migrations around the globe.

How is the study of genetic variation used in biomedical and anthropological research? Why do some companies offer these tests directly to consumers? What are the benefits and consequences of knowing one's ancestral origins? How is genetic ancestry used to decide claims about ethnic, political, and religious identity? What privacy risks are involved in submitting a sample for DNA testing?

Reporters are invited to cover the next Genetics and Public Policy Center's Genetics Perspectives on Policy Seminar (GenePOPS), "Sequencing Human History: The Genetics and Commerce of Personal Ancestry."

Aravinda Chakravarti, director of Johns Hopkins' Institute of Genetic Medicine, will describe the relationship between genetics and geographic origins, and how understanding human genetic variation is accelerating biomedical research. Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project at National Geographic, will explain how his team is mapping ancient human migrations based on the DNA code of humans living today. Gina Paige of African Ancestry, Inc. will relate experiences of African-Americans who have discovered their roots through DNA testing. And Sandra Soo-Jin Lee of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics will comment on social and ethical implications of defining people by their DNA.

The event will be open to the public, and is on the record.

Moderator: Kathy Hudson, director, Genetics and Public Policy Center

Panel: Spencer Wells, director, Genographic Project, National Geographic Society

Aravinda Chakravarti, director, Institute of Genetic Medicine, Johns Hopkins

Gina M. Paige, president, African Ancestry, Inc.

Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, senior research scholar, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics

2:00 p.m. EST Friday, March 2, 2007
National Press Club
529 14th Street, N.W. -- 13th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20045
-end-
About GenePOPS: To explore the areas being touched by human genetic technologies and foster discussion about their impact, the Genetics and Public Policy Center hosts a regular lecture and discussion series in Washington, D.C. called Genetics Perspectives on Policy Seminars - GenePOPS, for short. GenePOPS feature experts from relevant disciplines who come together to share thoughts and answer questions about genetic technologies and science policy. The Center is supported at The Johns Hopkins University by The Pew Charitable Trusts and by research funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute. The Center's mission is to create the environment and tools needed by decision makers in both the private and public sectors to carefully consider and respond to the challenges and opportunities that arise from scientific advances in human genetics.

Genetics & Public Policy Center, Johns Hopkins University

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