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Our shared ancestry: Chemistry professor offers tips for tracing your genetic family

He joined a joint scientific study by Harvard graduate Spencer Wells, a geneticist, and the National Geographic Society. It was a real-time study that encouraged public participation. "He and his colleagues realized that, in DNA, you can trace the footsteps of mankind. It's become an archaeological tool, much better than artifacts," Stieglitz said. Since its launch in 2005, National Geographic's Genographic Project has used advanced DNA analysis and worked with indigenous communities to help answer fundamental questions about where humans originated and how we came to populate the Earth. There were, at one time, 17 distinct human species. Through the Genographic Project, Stieglitz discovered he has both Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA — Skip Trace two species now extinct — because his long-ago ancestors migrated from Asia to Europe. Three types of DNA may used in genealogical testing: autosomal, Y-chromosome and mitochondrial. Understanding the science of DNA begins at the cellular level. DNA is contained in both the nucleus and mitochondria of a human cell. Nuclear or "autosomal" DNA has 22 pairs of chromosomes.

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