Speakers Bureau

Spencer Wells Population Geneticist

Picture of men in traditional garments in Chad

Photograph by David Evans

Photo: Spencer Wells
Photograph by David Evans

This geneticist, anthropologist, author, documentary filmmaker, and entrepreneur set an extraordinary goal for himself—using DNA from indigenous peoples, he aimed to document and create the first-ever map of human migration, showing how humans came to populate the planet after leaving the cradle of Africa some 60,000 years ago. Little has been known about our journey until now. For over a decade, Spencer Wells was a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and served as Director of the Genographic Project—a partnership with IBM, the Waitt Family Foundation, and National Geographic, and the most ambitious research project in the Society’s 125-year history. The project is working to capture an invaluable genetic snapshot of humanity before modern-day influences erase it forever.

Wells’ journey of discovery began at the University of Texas, where he enrolled at 16, majored in biology, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa three years later. He then pursued his Ph.D. at Harvard University and conducted postdoctoral training at Oxford and Stanford University’s School of Medicine with Luca Cavalli-Sforza, considered the “father of anthropological genetics.”

Wells has appeared in numerous documentary films and is the author of three books: The Journey of Man, Deep Ancestry, and Pandora’s Seed. His fieldwork has taken him to more than 100 countries, where he has worked with everyone from heads of government and Fortune 500 corporations, to tribal chieftains eking out a precarious living in places as remote as Chad, Tajikistan, and Papua New Guinea. He lives in Austin, TX, where he is founder and CEO of consumer genomics startup Insitome, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas and the owner of the iconic blues club Antone’s.

Presentation Topics

The Human Journey: A Genetic Odyssey
Join Wells on an epic journey that spans the globe, using DNA to trace the migration routes of our ancient ancestors and revealing the incredible tapestry of human diversity created along the way.

Consumer Genomics: The 30,000-foot view
The consumer genomics industry is a product of the past decade. The Genographic Project, which launched in 2005, is widely credited with its creation, and companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA now collectively sell more than 1 million DNA testing kits a year. In this talk, Wells presents a broad view of the industry from its “cottage” roots to its broader acceptance by the general public in North America. Topics covered include ancestry testing, the viability of testing for health-related traits, and the regulatory environment in which consumers for the first time in history have a means to read their own genetic blueprints. A rare first-person account of the dawn of a new industry, presented by one of its founders and leading advocates.

Audience Testimonial

“Spencer Wells and National Geographic created the ideal opportunity for our diverse audiences to better understand the important new worlds of DNA as applied to our individual lives. He performed his task masterfully, and truly the beneficiaries were the people who learned more about the world in which they live.”


Learn More About Spencer:

The Genographic Project

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Profile

NGM: The Big Idea: Genography (August 2009)

Spencer Wells’ Wikipedia Profile

Photo: Spencer Wells

Listen to Radio Interview With Spencer Wells

Boyd Matson Interviews Spencer for NG Weekend Radio Show

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Sam Abell
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Lynsey Addario
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Casey Anderson
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Peter Athans
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Lee Berger
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Joel K. Bourne Jr.
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John Bredar
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Dan Buettner
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Barry Clifford
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David Doubilet
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David Guttenfelder
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Zahi Hawass
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Fred Hiebert
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Nizar Ibrahim
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Donald Johanson
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Beverly & Dereck Joubert
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Mattias Klum
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Robert Kunzig
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Tim Laman
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Frans Lanting
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Mike Libecki
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Albert Yu-Min Lin
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Greg Marshall
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Boyd Matson
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Mark Moffett
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Nalini Nadkarni
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Paul Nicklen
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Garrett Oliver
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Børge Ousland
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Matthieu Paley
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Carsten Peter
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Bob Poole
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Sandra Postel
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Chad Pregracke
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Reza
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Cory Richards
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Jim Richardson
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Enric Sala
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Joel Sartore
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William Saturno
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Paul Sereno
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Brian Skerry
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Bryan Smith
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John Stanmeyer
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Zoltan Takacs
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Anand Varma
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Ed Viesturs
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Ami Vitale
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Spencer Wells
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Steve Winter
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