Conservation Biology

Monday, July 24, 2006


This documentary focuses on genetic lineages traced back through the analyses of mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is passed on by the mother to all her descendants, as it is only the egg cell (not sperm cells) that contains mitochondria. This explains the reference to Eve, the proverbial mother of all people. DNA undergoes random mutations at a certain rate and by analyzing the DNA from distinct populations around the world, one can establish the age of “tribes” and how they relate to each other. It is through this technology that the “Out of Africa” hypothesis has now been widely accepted by scientists.

The documentary tells the story of how humankind can be traced back to a single lineage that originated in Africa, here called the “Real Eve”. The spread of humankind and their subsequent population of the whole world is graphically demonstrated by reconstructed scenes from long ago and narrated by (a rather monotonous sounding) Danny Glover. Leading scientists explain how the evidence found through this mitochondrial DNA analyses links with archaeological finds along the route.

I found the documentary binding, but was put off by the lengthy and over dramatized graphic reconstructions. (I guess this is what keeps the kids glued to the screen!) Also, as this is a hypothesis it should be stated and not sold as the absolute truth. Recent evidence does support this theory, but exactly when, how and which route was taken by the first humans to populate the world remains hypothetical. The fact that the absolute truth is still out there, is demonstrated by the different time scales and routes suggested by an analysis of Y (paternal) chromosomal DNA, compared to mitochondrial (maternal) DNA.

None the less, the documentary remains educational and fascinating, and as with The Journey of Man, it emphasizes the interconnectedness of all people. Hopefully this knowledge will ultimately create more tolerance and understanding amongst the different nations and races.

Karen Marais
BCB Hons NISL student
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17




  • Hi Karen

    Your article is so interesting, reading your article send me back to human evolution and what the Bible says about creation. In the book of Genesis from the Bible where it says more about creation, it is clear that Adam and Eve where the first people on Earth and Eve being first women. After I read a paper titled ‘A shrinking date for Eve’ by Wieland Carl, I have realised that I do not have to compare evolution and religious or Christianity. Wieland (1998) indicate that the Real Eve is not the same as the Eve that the Bible taught us about. Wieland (1998) further supported his statement by indicating that the Real Eve lived far longer than the Biblical Eve. The suggested time that the Real Eve lived is 6000 to 6500 years ago and the biblical Eve lived less than that.

    As we known that mothers can only pass mtDNA to their daughters and one can do this practically by tracing back their ancestors though one might not trace far back as mtDNA can do.

    Forster and Matsumura conducted a study about whether the early humans did went north or south. It was suggested that they took the southern route. I should agree with you that the route which was taken by the first human to populate the world is still unknown.

    By Blogger Evelyn, at February 21, 2007 12:38 PM  

  • I'm a bit confused by your reading of Wieland's essay. Actually, he says the Biblical Eve is the Real Eve, with the 6000 to 6500 BCE date falling perfectly in line with the generations of the patriarchs.

    Also, no, mtDNA is passed down to daughters and sons. It's just that sons aren't able to pass it on to their own offspring.

    And as a general note, while the degree to which you feel Christianity and evolution conflict is of course your own affair, I would advise against getting your understanding of evolution from Creation Ministries International, as they are not engaged in any form of actual primary research.

    By Blogger NcK, at February 21, 2007 1:43 PM  

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