It’s here! My testing kit for National Geographic’s Genographic Project. It’s like my birthday and Winter Solstice all bundled together.

In the original Genographic Project, participants submitted a cheek swab and received in return information about their deep ancestry going back about 60,000 years. All participants could receive information about their maternal lineage through mitochondrial DNA (mDNA). mDNA is passed intact from mother to child. Mutations in the mDNA tell you where your ancestors originated, and trace their journey out of Africa to their eventual destination, where the most recent mDNA mutation occurred.

Male participants had the option of choosing to trace their paternal lineage as well as, or instead of, their maternal one. The male lineage is traced through the Y chromosome, in a similar way that the female lineage is traced using mDNA.

Participants can keep the results to themselves, or can choose to be part of the project. It’s strictly anonymous – names and addresses are never submitted anywhere, and participants access results through an ID number included with the testing kit. Data is used to further our understanding of human genetics and human migrations.

I participated three years ago, sending in kits for all three maternal lineages in my household. After leaving Africa, my ancestors meandered through the Middle East and Central Asia before landing in Northern Europe.

Recently, The Genographic Project introduced 2.0. In this version, participants receive information about their maternal lineage AND information about their paternal lineage, if they are male (curse you, oh homozygous pair 23), AND what populations contributed what percentage of their nuclear DNA, AND the percentage of their DNA that derives from the Neanderthal and/or Denisovan genomes.

Yes, I can find out how much of my ancestry is Neanderthal. The samples are being sent off in the mail today. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited. Oh wait, yes I can – it was when I participated in the original project three years ago.

To make a great thing even better, much of the money collected from the kits is used to fund projects in the indigenous communities who contributed the base data for the study. Since 2006, money paid by participants like me have funded more than 60 projects worldwide to help indigenous communities preserve languages, artifacts, and cultural practices.

This might possibly be the coolest thing I’ve ever done.