Genetic Origins was initiated at the Dolan DNA Learning Center in 1998, with grants from the Advanced Technological Education Program of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Special Grants Program of Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) Program of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Human Genome Initiative. The Genetic Origins Program is the culmination of the DNALC's systematic effort to remove the obstacles of using human DNA polymorphisms in education – by simplifying DNA isolation and PCR biochemistry and by providing bioinformatics tools for analyzing student results. Program components include 1) rapid protocols to amplify several types of human DNA polymorphisms, 2) a comprehensive Internet site, 3) a gratis service to sequence student DNA samples, and 4) training to introduce the program to high school and college biology teachers.
Genetic Origins focuses on two types of DNA variations: an Alu insertion polymorphism on chromosome 16 (PV92) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the control region of the mitochondrial (mt) chromosome. With two alleles and three genotypes, PV92 is a simple genetic system that illustrates Mendelian inheritance on a molecular level. PV92 data is readily analyzed using population statistics. The mt control region is one of the simplest regions of human DNA to sequence. With a high mutation rate, the mt control region is the "classical" system for studying human and primate evolution. The Genetic Origins site and linked Bioservers site have all the information needed for students to perform the Alu and mt DNA experiments and analyze the results - including online protocols, reagents, animations and videos explaining key concepts, and database tools.