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Genome Odyssey. To the heart of Aboriginal Australian genes.

English title Genome Odyssey. To the heart of Aboriginal Australian genes.
Applicant Malaspinas Anna Sapfo
Number 171636
Funding scheme Agora
Research institution Institut für Ökologie und Evolution Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Genetics
Start/End 01.02.2017 - 31.01.2019
Approved amount 192'111.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Anthropology, Primatology

Keywords (9)

aboriginal australians; scientific dialogue; evolution; café scientifique; anthropology museum; ethnography museum; population genomics; theatre; human migrations

Lay Summary (French)

CONTEXTE: Les enfants d’aujourd’hui grandiront sans doute dans un monde où on les encouragera à séquencer leur génome qui sera inclus dans leur dossier médical. Tout en étant pertinent d’un point de vue médical, chaque génome contient aussi de l’information unique et des indices sur notre passé et nos ancêtres
Lay summary
OBJECTIFS: En tant que généticiens du peuplement humain, un de nos buts principaux est de mieux comprendre comment et quand les humains ont colonisé le monde une fois après avoir quitté l’Afrique. Alors que nos résultats sont communiqués de manière satisfaisante à nos collègues, il faut souvent un temps considérable pour qu’ils atteignent le grand public. Par ce projet, nous aimerions expliquer à un large public comment le génome humain peut nous informer sur nos ancêtres.
MÉTHODOLOGIE & GROUPE CIBLÉ: Persuadés que l’expression artistique est l’un des meilleurs moyens non seulement de transmettre un message scientifique mais aussi toucher un public aussi large que possible, nous avons l’intention de produire une pièce de théâtre qui se basera sur les résultats d’une de nos récente études accepté par Nature, et soutenue par le Fonds National Suisse de la recherche scientifique. Une fois produite, la pièce aura lieu au Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève, et au Musée de l’Homme à Paris. Bien que la pièce s’adresse à un large public, nous ferons en sorte qu’elle soit accessible aux enfants : le public principal. Qui plus est, lors de la première de chaque pièce, nous organiserons des événements « apéro & science / goûter et science » auxquels seront conviés des scientifiques et des aborigènes australiens. Ces derniers discuteront des résultats génétiques du peuplement humain de notre étude sous l’angle des scientifiques et de la communauté aborigène australienne, et pourront aussi débattre sur des questions génétiques plus générales ayant trait aux événements politiques actuels en Suisse et en Europe.
PERTINENCE: Le but de notre projet est de contribuer à sensibiliser la génération future de citoyens – parmi lesquels des scientifiques, des législateurs, des médecins etc. – à l’information unique contenue au sein de notre ADN, ainsi que de débattre sur des questions comme : D’où venons-nous ? Qui sont nos ancêtres ?

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 22.01.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
154717 Characterizing migrations with modern and ancient genomic data: the limits of the Polynesian expansion 01.03.2015 Ambizione


BACKGROUND: Today’s children are likely to grow up in an era where they will be encouraged to have their genome sequenced and included in their medical record. Besides being of medical relevance, however, every genome also holds unique information and clues about our past and our ancestors. We carried out a research project recently accepted in Nature in collaboration with Aboriginal Australian communities that relies on such information. In this study we report the sequencing of Aboriginal Australian genomes and characterize the population history of anatomically modern humans. We showed for example that the ancestors of Eurasians and Australians probably left Africa around 70’000 years ago and that Australians diverged from their closest neighbors - the Papuans - around 40’000 years ago before dispersing through Australia and becoming a set of unique, yet inter-connected, cultural groups. OBJECTIVES: As human population geneticists, one of our main research aims is to increase our understanding of how and when humans colonized the world once they left Africa. However, our work will have little impact if it is not shared. While our results are efficiently communicated to our colleagues, it often takes far longer to reach the general public. With this project our aim is to describe to a general audience what a human genome can tell us about our ancestors. For this, we will rely on the results of our recent study but also the general principles of our work including: (i) genomes can inform us about our origins, (ii) anatomically modern humans dispersed from Africa across the world and reached Australia around 40,000 years ago, (iii) Aboriginal Australians have been and still are a vulnerable population whose relationship with Europeans is complex. Finally our goal is also to implicitly show that computational biology is fun and that anyone can become a scientist - irrespective of gender for example. METHODOLOGY & TARGET GROUP: Because we believe that artistic expression is one of the best ways both to convey a scientific message and to reach the widest possible audience, we plan to produce a theatre play that will be based on the results of our recent study. The play will be written and played by a team including a professional playwright, a science writer, actors and a director. To incorporate accurate and relevant anthropological information we will consult Swiss ethnography museums. Once produced, it will take place both nationally and internationally at museums in Geneva and Paris. While the play is intended for the general public, we will make it especially accessible for children, who will be our principal audience. Moreover, we will organize “wine & science”/”cookies & science” events taking place after the shows to which guests including scientists as well as Aboriginal Australians will be invited. They will discuss with the public the population genetic results of our study as seen by both the scientists and the Aboriginal Australian community, but also general genetics questions relevant to timely political events in Switzerland and the rest of Europe.RELEVANCE: The aim of our project is to raise awareness in the next generation of citizens - amongst whom will be scientists, lawmakers, doctors, etc. - on the unique scientific information held within our DNA, as well as well as to discuss questions such as: Where do we all come from? And who are our ancestors?