Scientists have discovered the “mitochondrial eve” was a woman who lived in Africa, Botswana specifically, near the Zambezi River. They were able to do this through statistical analysis using a sample of 1,200 people and discovered they all shared mitochondrial DNA that would have been present in a single woman living at that time in that area.
What is Mitochondrial Eve?
In order to understand the concept of “Mitochondrial Eve”, it is important to understand how mitochondria work. Mitochondria are a very strange parts of eukaryotic cells, which are the cells in multicellular organisms like plants and animals. Mitochondria generate the energy of a cell. What is strange, though, for the purposes of this subject, is that mitochondrial DNA is only inherited from the mother, not from the father. This causes there to be fewer mutations and allows us to trace mitochondrial DNA back statistically, since the mutation rates are rather constant.
Mitochondrial Eve, then, is the woman who carried all of the genetic material responsible for explaining all mitochondrial DNA. In this case, a single woman living in near the Okavango Delta, which was a wetland at the time, living about 200,000 years ago is the common ancestor of all living people today.
According to Yahoo! News:
This timeline runs counter to the one some scientists have created based on fossil evidence, however. The oldest-ever specimens of anatomically modern humans — skulls and other fossils dating back 195,000 years — were found in Ethiopia, which led many anthropologists to think of eastern Africa (rather than southern Africa, as the new study suggests) as the birthplace of our modern ancestors.
The new genetic analysis also offers credence to the idea that all modern humans evolved in one place in Africa before migrating to current-day Europe, Asia, and Australia — what’s known as the “Out of Africa” hypothesis — rather than evolving separately in multiple places around the world at the same time.
A very similar study, researching the descent of Y chromosome DNA or paternal DNA, found that all modern humans descended from a single man living on the opposite side of Africa, near Ethiopia, about 160,000 years ago. This, of course, does not mean that the common male ancestor would have been a mate of the common female ancestor. It could be the case that the single common female ancestor is simply from a different time period.
Regardless, we look forward to seeing where this fascinating research takes us next!