Our research forms a part of the wider, global human project to understand the family tree that connects us all, both on a large scale and in detail. In 2012, we found a branch on the human Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree, haplogroup A00, that's far older than any other branch previously known, having its origins at the dawn of the human species' emergence. The only peoples on earth it's known to exist among are a few African-Americans, and Cameroonians of certain ethnic groups.
This research will begin to give us a picture of its true distribution and history. By collecting samples from a diverse range of ethnic groups in Cameroon, starting with those where A00 is known to occur, we hope to map it, and by analyzing the patterns of relationship between different A00 lineages, and the complex histories of these peoples, with their widely varying social structures and ecological adaptations, we hope to understand much more about A00's place in human history.
The human family tree is being revolutionized by the massive data becoming available through next-generation DNA sequencing. We're gaining a tremendous amount of detail about the multitudes of small, recent branches...but we can also delve deeper into our earliest history as a species.
Historian Matthew Fomine Forka Leypey, of the Mbo ethnic group, gathered the African samples we studied in our ground-breaking paper published in the AJHG in March 2013. Data from his other previously collected but now-inaccessible samples show that A00 can be found among a variety of peoples of Cameroon, which is a world biodiversity hotspot. By collecting fresh samples among peoples of Mbo, Bangwa, Bamileke, Banyang, and Baka, Gyele and Bedzan ethnicities, performing more advanced sequencing of them than was previously possible, and combining the results with local, historical and ethnographic knowledge of these peoples, we hope to gain a much clearer picture of who our A00 brothers really are, and glimpse some of their long journey.
UPDATE (7/23): $5,000 Stretch Goal
Wow!! We're so excited that we reached our initial goal of $2500 in our first ~25 hours of fundraising! But that's only the beginning. Our overall research plan includes five field trips to sample peoples in different regions of the country. We'll be needing about $2500 for each trip. With $5000, Matthew should be able to make two trips right away, before the fall semester begins. A total of $12,600 is in our projected budget for the fieldwork. After each trip, there will be lots of DNA testing at various labs. The thoroughness and depth of the testing we can do will be determined by the funding we receive. We'll post more soon on the specific kinds of tests we hope to have done. So please keep chipping in -- every donation will be needed!
In the first trip, Matthew will travel to the remote rural villages where he was raised, in the mountainous, forested Nkongho-Mbo region, and collect at least 100 samples from three villages, which will then be sent to a lab to be screened for A00. More in-depth testing will focus on those A00 samples.
Planning and discussions are underway regarding which labs, probably more than one, will perform both SNP and STR testing on the samples. A full Y-chromosome sequence is on our wish list.
DNA Sample Collection in Cameroonian Villages
Bonnie and Matthew got to know each other as a result of our first paper on A00, the earliest human Y-DNA haplogroup, "An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree," of which we were both co-authors. Matthew was the collector of the original Mbo DNA samples from Cameroon, that testing found to belong to the same extraordinary branch as the Y chromosome of the Perry family in the U.S. Bonnie had organized the testing of the members of the A Haplogroup Project, including the Perrys, leading to the discovery of A00. We could see that the mere discovery of A00's existence was only the first step; so much more can be learned. We decided to work together to collect DNA samples from key ethnic groups across Cameroon, which could give a far more complete picture of A00's distribution, frequency, and diversity.
Sampling the diverse ethnic groups who may have A00 among their members, which can reveal to us the origins and migrations of this unique haplogroup, will require a series of field trips. Matthew has planned a set of five trips, with the one we're now seeking to fund just the first. Still to come are travels to the Bamileke, Banyangi, Bangwa, and the three Pygmy peoples of Cameroon, the Baka, Gyele and Bedzan.
Having the audacity to plan such a relatively ambitious project is unprecedented for citizen science. We hope you will stay with us for this adventurous journey!
We'll be sharing much more about the peoples and villages Matthew will be visiting, and fascinating details about their ways of life, so stay tuned!