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300 thousand euros to study human diversity

The project Human diversity in the space of Magalhães circumnavigation: genetics, history, and culture which was led by researcher Luísa Pereira, was one of those funded with 300 thousand euros in a contest launched by the Foundation for Science and Technology within the scope of the celebrations of the 500 years of the first trip around the world, by the Portuguese navigators Fernão de Magalhães and Spanish Juan Sebastián Elcano.

Fernão Magalhães’ voyage of circumnavigation which took place between 1519 and 1522, can be described as the first global trip and was extraordinary in several aspects. It turned out to be a bigger undertaking than the initial goal of reaching the Moluccas via the west. The navigators faced extreme climates and unknown routes and found "several human groups, different and comparatively exotic when compared to the Mediterranean background that comprised the crew of the Magellan fleet". This project, explains Luísa Pereira, "will apply a multidisciplinary approach (Biology-Human Population Genetics, Anthropological History, Geography-population dynamics, and Arts and Science Communication-translation for lay language and visual narratives) centered on contact between different groups encountered during that trip and subsequent representations of human diversity".

Basically, explains the researcher, "we are interested in human variability across space - from Europe to America, Southeast Asia, Africa and back to Europe - and also over time, by comparing populations and their dynamics since the beginning of the 16th century to the present and for the contextualization of social, cultural and political environments in which they were represented as diverse".

The various work-packages will combine the methods of the disciplines gathered in this project: population genetics, anthropological and historical context, and science communication. The first work-package will consist of a study of population genetics of the people connected by this trip, including the heterogeneous group of people from the Mediterranean Basin who traveled and the people found on the three continents. "We will focus on some phenotypic characteristics such as skin color, eyes and hair, and body proportions and genotyping a genomic chip with about a million variants covering all genes and relating them to the quantitative measures of these characteristics", explains Luísa Pereira. "The samples will be collected in the Mediterranean Basin, Brazil (Rio de Janeiro), Argentina (Santa Cruz, Patagonia), Marianas (Guam), Philippines (Cebu City), Brunei, Moluccas (Tidore), Timor and Cape Verde (Santiago Island) through our well-established international network of anthropologists-geneticists, reinforced by team member François Xavier-Ricaut, from the University of Toulouse".

The team led by Luísa Pereira intends to work with samples from at least 50 representatives of the current populations, as well as from 50 individuals from native / isolated communities representing as well as possible the peoples found by the crew of Magalhães. "We expected the first group to be more genetically and culturally mixed than the second, allowing for a genetic assessment of the population dynamics introduced since the trip".

The second work-package, led by Cristiana Bastos of the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon (ICS-Ulisboa), will seek an interdisciplinary involvement between genetic research and social sciences. "First, we will contextualize the trip historically, the cultural encounters and the subsequent inscription of the trip in the dominant historiography and in popular memory. Then, as a theoretical contribution, we will consider ethical and methodological issues of the use of genetic data in the historical narrative and, taking them into account, we will involve the findings of the first work-package in the history of population and migration".

The third work-package, to be developed by the Communication team led by Júlio Borlido Santos will consist of art and communication activities that will include educational and artistic approaches to translate and disseminate the project's findings and immerse society in values of multiculturalism and equality based on diversity. The products will be an interactive Artistic Installation, Educational Tools, and multiplier activities.