woman in red holding lab syringe

Rebecca Cann in 1988

In 1987, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology Rebecca Cann and two colleagues gained widespread attention for identifying an ancestral mother of all living humans.

Working then at the University of California, Berkeley, Cann, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology geneticist Mark Stoneking and the late Allan Wilson, found a genetic marker in mitochondrial DNA passed on from a single female ancestor who lived in Africa some 150,000–200,000 years ago.

The report was greeted with some skepticism from the academic as well as religious communities, but it ultimately provided support for the Recent African Origin model of human evolution, which holds that modern humans evolved just once, most likely in East Africa.

silhouette of people in different colors linked by lines

Marililneal ancestor tree, from Wikimedia Commons

Previously, anthropologists hypothesized that Homo erectus departed Africa two million years ago and evolved independently in different regions.

Cann and Stoneking recall the challenges of 1980s research and computing methods–and explain why the term “Mitochondrial Eve” is a bit of a misnomer–in a 109.com interview marking the 25th anniversary of the paper.

Read the interview, posted January 27 in 109.com, and an accompanying article about the research by Cann, Stoneking and Wilson.

Also see an earlier article about Cann and her research in PLoS Genetics.

Access the original Nature paper.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. The smarter they look, the stupider they talk: True, religionists know that the sons of the gods went unto the daughters of [Marduk’s] mankind and they bore sons and daughters because they were beautiful, Natural selection -for whoop de doo- accounts for most of the science since the late 70’s, If luck had anything to do with it, it was long ago obsolete, billions of years not hundreds of thousands… If mankind descended from the apes, (like a Larson cartoon of the first man to descend from his tired ape), it wasn’t on Earth and it wasn’t any time recent… The gods probably thought it was humane to dump their moron children on Earth-planets: before returning, to take over.

  2. sorry this does not impress me, I don’t think she found anything worth mentioning. humans have not been around that long.

    Ray Salmon

  3. Its really a shame that the religious people just cannot understand and/or accept that humans and all other higher forms of life on Earth slowly evolved from bacteria over a span of 3.5 billion years. The scientific (logical) evidence to support evolution is a virtual mountain now, and denying it just makes a person appear silly and ignorant. All they have to back them up is a thousands of year old book, which has been retranslated so many times its of negligible value. Even then, who should believe the description of the world written by humans ~2000 years ago? Everyone still thought the universe above revolved around the Earth and gods had to be invented to explain everything which was unexplained. 21st century humans simply know so much more and better now. Stop living in the past, educate yourself, and think towards the future, please.

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