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.
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.
Also see an earlier article about Cann and her research in PLoS Genetics.
Access the original Nature paper.