The National Geographic Channel is slowly but surely trying to carve a niche for itself by introducing different genres of programming.
The latest initiative challenges the very nature of the evolution of man. In order to promote its intriguing new documentary Journey of Man which airs on 15 December at 9 pm, the channel has brought down the brain behind the enterprise geneticist Dr Spencer Wells to India.
Indiantelevision.com correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with Wells who spoke about the discovery, his work and progress being made in the field of genetic engineering.
How did you get involved with National Geographic and 'Journey of Man'?
When starting out, there were two basic issues to deal with. Where exactly do our origins lie, and how did we come to be in every single corner of the globe. One of my most remarkable findings came in Kazakhstan. A man Niyazov is the descendant of the Central Asian man who populated Europe and America.
How much money did you spend on the project? Where did funding come from?
This has been a collaborative effort with scientists from all over the world including India. Our method is to make contact with local regions especially indigenous tribes. Folk tales that they have to tell about their ancestors are also important.
What old theories of evolution does 'Journey of man' throw out of the window and is Darwinism one of them?
The advantage of the Y Chromosome is that it is handed down only by the male parent unmingled with a woman's DNA. So it can stay the same from generation to generation. It can only change with a mutation which is an accidental but natural change in the genetic code. This can happen to strengthen the immune system from newly emerged diseases.
From your research in the 60,000 years, how rapidly did man's intellectual and physical traits developed?
60,000 years ago the world was in the grip of an ice age. So a lot of land mass was uncovered which is now buried in the sea and that is how I believe our ancestors travelled. This was the first migration wave. I believe that the ancestors of Australian aborigines come from here. The second wave took place 45,000 years ago. Southern Indians trace their ancestors from here. What is remarkable is that they survived although temperatures could reach minus 100 degrees.
How did men, women of different colours come into being if we all come from a black man?
Has your theory generated a lot of controversy and heated debate among the scientific community?
Over the last five years, has the amount of coverage that television channels devote to genetic and scientific discoveries, research, studies gone up?
For how long have you been a geneticist?
Now we are working a new project on the Journey of Man microsite on the National Geographic site. This is a global project in order to obtain a genetic snapshot. We will create a place on the site which will allow visitors to digitally create an attractive face they would like to get sexually involved with. This is then fed into a database. Through the regional average we hope to get an insight into how races evolved. The global average will give us a glimpse into Adam and Eve. Speaking of this I look at the Bible with its stories of the Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark as a parable seeking to explain a diverse strand of elements and circumstances.
What kinds of advances have been made since you started out?
Besides 'Journey of Man', what other important research projects have you been involved in?
Is the extinction of animal species in the future still a huge concern when one considers the advances in cloning?
Finally do you see a bright future for biotechnology research in India?