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Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings): Solving Crimes With DNA

8 minutes

Doctor Jackson, what a great talk. Thank you for having me. I was hoping we could chat more. Do you have time? Sure. Follow me. Okay.

(female narrator) On today's edition of Scientists on Sofas, we chat with DNA scientist Bruce Jackson, who traces ancestry and helps solve crimes with the powerful tool of DNA. Well, in just a minute we'll talk to him. Okay, here we go. Get ready to learn about scientist and mentor Bruce Jackson. Dr. Jackson, we've been reading about your work, and we're very interested in the ocean and the fact that it says something about human history. Why are people drawn to the ocean? Whether you're talking secularly or non-secularly, the origins of living things seem to emanate from the ocean, so people have great interest. Scientifically, the ocean is where much research we do at Mass Bay lies. Has that been some of your students' way into science? For some, that was their only way into science. In fact, we have a marine biotechnology program. It has drawn students who weren't really inclined to think about science as a career. Many students in that marine biotech want PhDs. As a mentor, that must feel good. Very good. You have done a lot of research that tells about people's own history. Tell me about that. We have a project called the DNA Roots Project. It uses DNA technology to trace the lineages of Blacks from the Americas-- North, South, Latin America, the Caribbean, with regards to their ancestry in Africa. This technology traces the paternal lineages through the Y chromosome and the maternal lineages through the mitochondria DNA, which is passed down from mother to daughter. We use the analysis of these two genetic elements to try to determine where people from this region emanate from. What have you found out about yourself? Not what I expected. My father's Y chromosome, genetically,

in terms of its DNA, its haplotype-- it's a very unusual haplotype. It's centered around what's now Ghana. But my mother's mitochondria is Russian. When my postdoc told me, he asked, "Are you sitting down?" I said, "No, but maybe I should." He said, "We finished the mitochondria analysis, and you're Russian." It took us a few years to figure that out. That was a big surprise. My father's Y chromosome, my paternal lineage is purely African. But my maternal lineage is Russian. You have a underwater surveillance system that you have used. And I think you have found slave ships or remnants of them? We're going to be using it to explore slave ships. Going into wrecks is dangerous. We'll see if we can pick up artifacts that might give us a timeline when that vessel sank and try to understand where it came from. Because the genetic information used to trace lineages was never meant to be a stand-alone tool. One of the problems that you have using DNA as a tool, whether you're using it for forensic purposes in criminal cases or ethnological cases, is most errors come when it's used by itself. It may be the most powerful tool, but it must fit with other information. That's what my system does-- includes historical information to help us assemble this big puzzle. I see this connection between the way you help people discover their past and those historical roots and also the way that you're mentoring and going into the future. People are coming back to you as the person who mentored them and helped them do new things with their future. Do you see that connection? Yes, I see it. I'm a product of it. I'm a product of people who are supportive of me, who pushed me, who had faith in my capabilities. I'm a continuation of people who were themselves great mentors. It's not something to be taken lightly. You're taking responsibility for somebody's life. What they do in their lives is heavily influenced by what you do with them. The Roots Project was meant to be for my family only, for my own information, to satisfy that-- that urge to know where the Jacksons of Connecticut and Addisons of Virginia came from--my mother's family. It kind of snowballed into other things. I think it was maybe because I understood, when other people started coming to me, how important it was to them as well. I didn't think it would amplify. I'm gratified that it has. Mentoring is a powerful force. If employed correctly, you can-- you transform lives of people who otherwise never would have done certain things. What happens is that the Roots Project converged on that. It's a great tool to teach students genetics and also the power of science, in terms of changing people's lives and reconnecting people who have been lost or disassociated from one another. So things converge on them. It's important to know how they converge and how to make them synergistic.

Funding to purchase and make this educational production accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

PH: 1-800-USA-LEARN (V) or WEB: www.ed.gov.

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Scientist Bruce Jackson traces ancestry and solves crimes with the powerful tool DNA. Part of the Scientists and Engineers On Sofas Series.

Media Details

Runtime: 8 minutes

Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 1
8 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 2
9 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 3
6 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 4
6 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 5
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Scientists & Engineers On Sofas (And Other Furnishings)
Episode 6
8 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12