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Final Syracuse Symposium event will explore the genetic footprints of our ancestors

October 13, 2008

Judy Holmes
(315) 443-2201

Judy Holmes

Syracuse Symposium 2008 will conclude with a lecture by Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project at National Geographic, who will present “Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project” Thursday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Syracuse University’s Life Sciences Complex Auditorium. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by the Department of Biology in The College of Arts and Sciences in celebration of the dedication of the Life Science Complex, to be held on Nov. 7. Parking for Wells’ lecture is available for $3.50 in the Booth Garage (garage closes at 10 p.m.).

Syracuse Symposium is a semester-long intellectual and artistic festival celebrating interdisciplinary thinking, imagining and creating, presented by The College of Arts and Sciences to the entire Syracuse community. The fall 2008 symposium theme is migration. Further information about the symposium is available on the Web at

A scientist, author and documentary filmmaker, Wells has dedicated much of his career to studying humankind’s family tree and closing the gaps in our knowledge of human migration. The groundbreaking, multiyear Genographic Project is the largest study of genetic anthropology ever undertaken. During his lecture, Wells will share his latest discoveries and outline plans for the Genographic Project.

“Everybody loves a good story, and when it's finished, this will be the greatest one ever told,” Wells says about the Genographic Project. “The story begins in Africa with a group of hunter-gatherers, perhaps just a few hundred strong. It ends some 200,000 years later with their 6.5 billion descendants spread across the Earth.”

The ambitious Genographic project aims to trace the migration of our ancient ancestors using genetic signposts carried in the DNA of people living today. To accomplish their goal, Wells and his team of renowned international scientists are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical DNA patterns from participants around the world. The project has taken Wells and his research team to more than a dozen countries, including Chad, Tajikistan, Morocco and French Polynesia.

Wells’ own journey of discovery began at 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. Beginning in 1994, he conducted postdoctoral training at Stanford University’s School of Medicine with Luca Cavalli-Sforza, who is considered the father of anthropological genetics. It was there that Wells became committed to studying genomic diversity in indigenous populations and unraveling age-old mysteries about early human migration.

Wells has received numerous scientific awards, grants and fellowships, including the 2007 Kistler Prize for accomplishment in the field of genetics. He is author of two books, “Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project” (National Geographic Paperback, 2007) and “The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey” (Random House Paperback, 2004).

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