Wells grew up in Lubbock, Texas and started college at age 16.
- B.S., Biology, University of Texas at Austin, 1988
- Ph.D., Biology, Harvard University, 1994
- Postdoctoral fellow, Stanford University, 1994-1998
- Research fellow, Oxford University, 1999-2000
Wells did his Ph.D. work under Richard Lewontin, and later did postdoctoral research with Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Sir Walter Bodmer. His work, which has helped to establish the critical role played by Central Asia in the peopling of the world, has been published in journals such as Science, American Journal of Human Genetics, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
He wrote the book The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey (2002), which explains how genetic data has been used to trace human migrations over the past 50,000 years, when modern humans first migrated outside of Africa. According to Wells, one group took a southern route and populated southern India and southeast Asia, then Australia. The other group, accounting for 90% of the world's non-African population (some 5 billion people as of late 2006), took a northern route, eventually peopling most of Eurasia (largely displacing the aboriginals in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia in the process), North Africa and the Americas. Wells also wrote and presented the PBS/National Geographic documentary of the same name. By analyzing DNA from people in all regions of the world, Wells has concluded that all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 - 90,000 years ago, a man also known as Y-chromosomal Adam.
Since 2005, Wells has headed The Genographic Project, undertaken by the National Geographic Society, IBM and The Waitt Family Foundation, which will add to our knowledge of human history by analyzing DNA samples from around the world, thereby creating a picture of how our ancestors populated the planet.
Wells lives in Washington, DC with his wife, documentary filmmaker Pamela Caragol Wells. He has two daughters from a previous marriage.
- National Merit Scholar
- Phi Beta Kappa
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowship
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship
- CINE Golden Eagle, Journey of Man
- Fellow of the Explorers Club
- Kistler Prize
- The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, 2002 (Penguin, UK; Random House, USA)
- Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project, 2006 (National Geographic)
- 2000 - The Difference (Channel Four, UK)
- 2002 - The Real King and Queen (Discovery Channel)
- 2003 - Journey of Man (PBS/National Geographic Channel)
- 2004 - Quest for the Phoenicians (PBS)
- 2005 - Search for Adam (National Geographic Channel)