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Archive for December, 2009

Ciao, Venezia!

Today is our last day in Venice. We had an amazing time in this beautiful city! We will truly miss it. Our final report is  available on this blog, in case you’d like to check out our deliverables. We would like to thank everyone that participated in the Genographic Project DNA testing, in addition to our advisors, our collaborators and anyone else that helped us with our project. We are very grateful!

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Final Presentation Details

Our time in Venice is drawing to a close! To showcase what we have been working on this semester, we will be having our final presentation Tuesday, December 15, 2009. It will begin around 10:00am and last about an hour. Two of our associate groups will be presenting directly following our presentation, so you can get a real feel for what the Venice Project Center is all about. There is no need to stay for all of them, but you are welcome to! To read about the rest of the presentations and the projects click here.

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Funeral For Venice

Photo from the Funeral

On November 14, the four of us attended the Funeral for Venice. The Funeral was established by Venessia.com to raise awareness for the sinking population of Venetians. Recently, the population dipped below 60,000 residents, less than half of the population following WWII (150,000). There was much press coverage for the event, which was expected, as we attended the press conference at Ca D’Oro Hotel in Venice the week prior (you can find a blog about the press conference below). The Funeral officially began 12:00 PM, but we were asked to meet with some reporters beforehand at Stazione Santa Lucia, Venice’s train station. We were only expecting one or two reporters, however, about one dozen showed up. The reporters quickly swarmed us, and many of us were interview by national newspapers including BBC, NY Times, Boston Globe, CNN, and Polish Television, among others. We collected several samples from volunteers, even reporters, during this pre-Funeral session. After nearly one hour of interviews and photographs, we packed up our DNA sampling kits and headed to the Funeral.

Andrew collecting a DNA sample

The Funeral for Venice began at Santa Lucia and ended at Rialto via the Grand Canal. Two of us (Ben and Andrew) were fortunate enough

to actually ride in the procession, along with Professor Gibson, while Jackie and Debbie went backhome to change out of their fashion fopas (rain boots). Dozens of boats lined the Grand Canal. There was even a pianist! Eventually the

boats docked at Rialto where the Funeral continued with several speeches and ultimately, the smashing of a coffin, symbolizing the “death of Venice.”

Once we were docked, we set up shop off to the side of the main attraction, where we could collect DNA samples. The Funeral attracted hundreds of locals and tourist, so we were fortunate to collect many samples. In total, we collected approximately 50 DNA samples, bringing our grand total to 129 as of November 14. As of today, we’ve collected 150 samples out of 300.

We will continue our testing in hopes of reaching our initial goal of 300.

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On Monday, November 23rd, we had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Comas of the Unitat de Biologia Evolutiva at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. He is our collaborator from the National Geographic Genographic Project, and is performing the DNA analysis for us in his laboratory. We knew we were in for an exciting tour of the facilities before we even met Dr. Comas, judging only from the outer appearance of the building.

Outside view of building housing the labs

The modern building shone in the warm Barcelona sun, surrounded by countless palm trees. In amazement we entered the lobby, where the receptionist asked for our student IDs, and then presented us with visitor ones. Dr. Comas’ office was located on the 4th floor, in the Evolutionary Biology department. As we waited in front of his office door, a casually dressed man ran towards us and warmly introduced himself as David Comas. His passion and intelligence in the field immediately became obvious as he explained the process of analyzing a DNA sample.
The DNA is first extracted from the saliva sample. This step is usually successful, but there are occasions on which the scientists are unable to recover any DNA. The known genetic regions are then sequenced and compared to carefully reconstruct the migratory pattern of that individual’s DNA. This process is not easily accomplished, and the results are available only after a few months.
Dr. Comas informed us that 200-300 samples would suffice to create a migratory route for people of Venetian origins. He also agreed to aid us in our attempts to compare Venetian DNA with that of the Paphlagonians, Central Europeans, and people’s from other parts of Europe such as Brittany, France to determine the true origins of the Veneti. The Genographic Project already has sufficient DNA samples from these regions in its database, and Dr. Comas agreed to compare them with those of the Venetians.

Freezer where the DNA samples are stored

Afterwards, we excitedly accepted a tour of the laboratory, where we were able to see the machines that carry out the sequencing and where the samples are stored. He let us know that a few of these machines had actually been donated by the Genographic Project to aid in the sequencing of the samples.

One of the machines that carries out DNA sequencing

Our tour ended with a walk unto one of the gorgeous balconies of the facility.  Our jaws dropped at the incredible beach view and at the architecture which they have the pleasure of experiencing every day. Dr. Comas told us of the beach volleyball tournament all the labs participate in every summer, followed by perhaps our favorite quote of the visit, “It’s hard to work here”.  It was a great opportunity to snag a peek at what goes on behind the scenes of the Genographic Project, and we can’t wait to use the rest of the kits so that the Venetian DNA analysis can begin as soon as possible.

“It’s hard to work here”

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