Conservation Biology

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Produced by the Discovery Channel in 2002. Please review what Wikipedia has to say about Mitochondrial Eve as a background to this video. You will need to source at least three Peer-reviewed publications covering aspects of this subject. Please provide your three references (CSE format) as a comment on this posting - you will be using this in your assignment.

What Discovery Channel has to say (I would avoid their website ... it is seriously irritating, may even be the MOST irritating website I have visited so AVOID AT ALL COSTS and I have not provided their URL as a result)

Narrated by actor Danny Glover, "The Real Eve" reveals that our shared genetic heritage links every living person on earth and traces the expansion of modern humans throughout the world. The discovery of the Eve gene stunned the world. It seems we could all be descended from just a few females – or even just one. In this telling anthropological video, we access the very latest DNA reconstructions, and for the first time, tell conclusively the story of where, when and how the human race came about and then populated the world.

The Internet Movie Database [1] said the following about this DVD

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to children, both male and female, unchanged and it mutates at a predictable rate; i. e., the more the genetic mutations in the DNA, the more ancient the origin of the population. Using these facts, some scientists are studying mitochondrial DNA to try to trace back the origins of the human race. Using this method, the scientists have traced the human race to one female in Africa several million years ago.

Then they traced the migration patters of her descendants as they spread across the earth. The Real Eve is a fascinating documentary presenting a new and controversial theory of human evolution. It does what all good documentaries do, it makes you think, and it entertains at the same time. I enjoyed it very very much and anyone interested in human evolution would probably enjoy it also.

DVD Review [2] had the following to say...

The Real Eve is, just that, an Artisan-produced, Discovery Channel documentary based on a new scientific find that traces all modern human races back to one African woman. Not just the first woman, but the one whose genetic make-up was the strongest to survive. This woman's daughters were the most fit to survive, and over thousands of years migrated into Yemen, and then continued to branched out to the ends of the world. The scientific find that has allowed all of this to happen is the discovery of mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA holds key marks that tell a scientist exactly which out-of-African branch a subject's ancestors came from. The content of The Real Eve was controversial and exciting all at the same time.

The science of The Real Eve was quite amazing, but the story telling of the journeys taken from Africa to every inhabited part of the world were captivating. With footage of modern-day tribes and re-enactments of ancient tribes, the story is well told. A few times I became confused, but eventually it was easy to put two and two together. I was never lost more than a few moments.

Even more intrigueing was the explanation for our differences in color. The Real Eve explains how each out-of-African branch entered new untouched territory, thus having to adapt to new climates and landscapes. Through evolution, each branch adapted to their new world. The rule of thumb seems to be - the closer to the equator, the darker the skin, and vice-versa.

I learned so many things that were unbelievably interesting. For instance, Native American Indians are not the REAL native americans. An earlier branch of people, that more resemble northern asian tribes, had migrated into the Americas thousands of years earlier. When a branch from Siberia (the ancestors of modern-day Native Americans) migrated into America, a fight over territory ensued and eventually drove out the earlier inhabitants. Small tid-bits of information like this made The Real Eve even more fun to watch.

The only special features on the DVD are two mini behind-the-scenes clips. More like extended 3-minute commercials, these clips provide a small, but interesting amount of information. "The Edge of Extinction" shows how a group of computer effects engineers recreated an ancient volcano from the ground up using CGI (computer generated images). "One Family" is a short, yet insightful, look at the purpose of The Real Eve. Neither clip teaches much, but like a commercial, they convey a few interesting ideas about the show.

Taking a step back from the science of The Real Eve, the documentary has a really nice message about understanding our differences, and better yet, understanding our likenesses. The great story telling and the scientific magnitude of The Real Eve make it seem really silly to fight over our racial differences. When a Greek woman and a Native American man have their mitochondrial DNA analyzed, they find that their heritages both trace back to a Northern Siberian branch of the original out-of-African movement. From this branch, a faction went east into the Americas, while another headed west to Europe. The astonishment moves the woman to speak about tolerance and understanding. There is so much more to all this, but you'll have to watch to really understand it. I really enjoyed The Real Eve and recommend it to anyone who regularly finds themself watching The Dicovery Channel or TLC.

The Apollo Guide [3] had the following review

This documentary was produced by and for the Discovery Channel, which tells you most of what you need to know: it’s competently made, educational and more or less entertaining, depending on the viewer. Personally, I’m moderately interested in science and I found a good deal of The Real Eve compelling, but it can also be tedious.

Andrew Peddington’s film attempts to detail the journey of modern humans from the first tribes in the heart of Africa 150,000 years ago through their expansion to every corner of our planet. Recent advances in DNA reconstruction show that all five billion people living today share the same mitochondrial DNA. This basically means that we’re all related to one of these first women, the “genetic Eve”.

Further genetic tracking allows scientists to follow the development of DNA lines as people divide and migrate. By combining this with the discoveries of archaeologists and geologists, we’re able to recreate how and why this journey occurred. Originally hunters-gatherers, the first people were forced to change their ways when the world’s water became locked in ice and Africa dried up. This first led them to the coastal areas, where they lived by fishing and beach combing, and when they became too many for the limited resources, some of them took off on the first exodus.

Crossing over the Red Sea to Yemen and its fertile grounds and fresh water, the daughters and sons of genetic Eve progressively spread and populated the Middle-East, Asia, Australia, Europe and eventually the Americas. Differences in climate and environment caused them to physically alter over the thousands of years, most notably with skin becoming paler as people moved to colder regions. But underneath the skin, the movie suggests, we are all exactly the same. That humanistic message is the best thing about The Real Eve, and possibly what motivated the filmmakers to make it. People can be so intolerant and xenophobic in our age that it doesn’t hurt to remind them that they’re just variations of the same species.

Unfortunately, the documentary is not consistently enlightening. It’s dynamically crafted, with minimal ‘talking heads’ segments with scientists, instead focusing more on sequences recreating the different stages of modern human’s journey. Sadly, all the impressive camerawork, stylish montages and special effects don’t quite make up for the dullness of the narration, which is read by Danny Glover. The narration is meandering, repetitive and often pointless, as the visuals and the interviews with scientists are evocative
enough on their own.

Also puzzling are the out of place action sequences, like a whole segment about a volcano eruption (recreated with bad computer-generated imagery), a shark attack or a long battle scene between Native Americans. Clearly, Peddington and company want to dramatise things and not make their film feel like a dry lecture, but these action beats are digressive nonetheless. Still, The Real Eve conveys an inspiring message about the unity of the human race and it advances some interesting theories about the migration patterns of our ancestors.

To get the Ball rolling on this course please provide a very brief 200-300 word personal take on this video (not references required) and post as a new contribution to the Blog.

School Exercise based on this video

References and Links







  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Karen Marais, at July 23, 2006 10:23 AM  

  • Here are my references for Eve:

    Richards MB and Macaulay VA. 2001. The Mitochondrial Gene Tree Comes of Age. American Journal of Human Genetics 68:1315-1320

    Maca-Meyer N, González AM, Larruga JM, Flores C, Cabrera VM. Major genomic mitochondrial lineages delineate early human expansions. BMC Genetics [Internet] 2001 August 13 [cited 2006 July 20] 2:13 Available from:

    Ingman M, Kaessmann H, Pääbo S and Gyllensten U. 2000. Mitochondrial genome variation and the origin of modern humans. Nature 408:708-713

    By Blogger Karen Marais, at July 24, 2006 8:15 PM  

  • Hello all ye!

    My references for Mitochondrial eve, as requested, are as follows:

    Cann R., Stoneking M., Wilson A. C. 1987. Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution. Nature 325: 31 - 36

    Stoneking M. 1994. Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution. Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes 26(3): 251 - 259

    Watson E., Forster P., Richards M., Bandelt H. J. 1997. Mitochondrial footprints of Human Expansions in Africa. American Journal of Human Genetics 61(3): 691 - 704

    Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Question archives [Internet] [cited 2006 Jul 27] 20:57 Available from:

    Wikipedia contributors. Ribosomal_RNA [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Jul 21, 15:20 UTC [cited 2006 Jul 27]. Available from:

    Wikipedia contributors. Translation[Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Jul 25, 02:07 UTC [cited 2006 Jul 27]. Available from:

    Wikipedia contributors. Chromosome[Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Jun 23, 16:37 UTC [cited 2006 Jul 27]. Available from:

    Wikipedia contributors. Junk_DNA[Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Jun 28, 21:53 UTC [cited 2006 Jul 27]. Available from:

    Ingman M. Action Bioscience [Internet] [cited 2006 Jul 27]18:31 Available from:



    By Blogger davidvaughan, at July 27, 2006 11:17 PM  

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