The Journey of Man
is not just some old fashioned sexist travelogue about a bloke in shorts and sandals wandering the byways of the world. As the subtitle explains, it is "a genetic odyssey" of men rather than women. We have heard a lot about the matriarchal "African Eve". As Spencer Wells says, we all have an African foremother who lived approximately 150,000 years ago. She handed down her genetic mitochondrial "handbag" specifically to her daughter and on over the generations and millennia. But what about the male contribution to today's human genome?
Luckily for the male ego and population geneticists it turns out that blokes also have some unique chromosomal hand baggage hidden away in the non-recombining part of the Y chromosome. Like female mitochondrial DNA it is passed solely between father and son and is particularly useful for studying human diversity. This is because it is so big--much bigger than mitochondrial DNA--and accumulates mutations at particular sites that can be relatively easily identified. By sampling the Y chromosome from men around the world the modern human diaspora can be mapped out both geographically and chronologically.
Spencer Wells is an American geneticist with impeccable credentials from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities and certainly knows his subject. Fortunately, he is also very good at explaining the science, which can be somewhat complicated at times. This fascinating and often surprising story originated as a television film and has benefited from being thoroughly worked out through first-hand experience around the world.
Accompanied by 24 pages of brilliant photos by Mark Read, an excellent list of further reading and an index, The Journey of Man is well worth getting to grips with. As Wells points out, each of us carries a unique chapter locked away inside our genome, and we owe it to ourselves and our descendants to discover what it is. Come on boys, this is our story and we ought to know the gist of it. Douglas Palmer
--This text refers to an alternate
From Publishers Weekly
In this surprisingly accessible book, British geneticist Wells sets out to answer long-standing anthropological questions of where humans came from, how we migrated and when we arrived in such places as Europe and North America. To trace the migration of human beings from our earliest homes in Africa to the farthest reaches of the globe, Wells calls on recent DNA research for support. Clues in the blood of present groups such as eastern Russia's Chukchi, as well as the biological remnants of long-extinct human clans, allow Wells to follow the Y chromosome as a relatively unaltered marker of human heritage. Eventually, working backward through time, he finds that the earliest common "ingredient" in males' genetic soup was found in a man Wells calls the "Eurasian Adam," who lived in Africa between 31,000 and 79,000 years ago. Each subsequent population, isolated from its fellows, gained new genetic markers, creating a map in time and space. Wells writes that the first modern humans "left Africa only 2,000 generations ago" and quickly fanned out across Asia, into Europe, and across the then-extant land bridge into the Americas. Using the same markers, he debunks the notion that Neanderthals were our ancestors, finds odd links between faraway peoples, and-most startlingly-discovers that all Native Americans can be traced to a group of perhaps a dozen people. By explaining his terminology and methods throughout the book, instead of in a chunk, Wells makes following the branches of the human tree seem easy. 44 color photos, 54 halftones and 3 maps.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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