What if I told you that Eve was real?
No, don’t worry… We’re not going to get all theological. We’re not talking about Adam, Eve, and the infamous snake. We’re talking about mitochondrial Eve!
First, let’s define what mitochondria is.
Everyone knows that it’s the powerhouse of the cell.
Basically, mitochondria turn food into energy that our
body can use.
So there’s this thing called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Most of our DNA is found in the nucleus, but there’s a tiiiiny amount of DNA that can be found in the mitochondria.
Now, here’s the fascinating part.
Mitochondrial DNA can only be passed down from the mother. There’s this thing called paternal mitochondrial elimination.
Bear with me. Let’s break it down.
So, during sexual reproduction sperm race to be the first to fertilize the egg! But after fertilization, the mitochondrial DNA in the sperm is destroyed.
We’re still not sure WHY it happens, but it does.
Anyways… if your mother passed down her mtDNA to you, and your grandmother passed down her mtDNA to your mom, and your great-grandmother passed down her mtDNA to your grandma… Can you see where I’m going with this?
So based on all of that, theoretically,
we can go back to the first mother ever!
That’s right! Except don’t get confused. She wasn’t the first woman. Or, it’s very unlikely.
Ok, but think about it.
What if someone doesn’t give birth to a girl?
Then the matrilineal line is broken, and our perception of when mtEve, or mtMRCA lived shifts closer to the present.
Scientists also use the term mitochondrial most recent common ancestor, which is a better description of who mitochondrial Eve was. She wasn’t necessarily the first human, but the first woman that we can tie all present women to, in a single unbroken line.
You know how people say that we all come from Africa?
Well they’re not totally wrong. It’s estimated that mtEve lived around 200,000 years ago in southern Africa.
When modern day humans started to migrate out of Africa, we hypothesize that land bridges still existed from the last ice age, which allowed people to travel distances otherwise covered by water. Which brings me the next topic: haplogroups.
Haplogroups! So eventually the human race split apart to form different ethnicities. Basically, a haplogroup is a group that shares common DNA. Think of them like the branching off points of human family tree. They range from A-Z, with the main haplogroups being L, M and N.
Totally. And with services like 23andme and AncestryDNA kits, people aren’t only finding their origins, but those tests add to the pool of data that scientists can continue to research!
If you know where your family originates from, it’s pretty easy to trace back to your haplogroup. If you want to learn more about haplogroups, matrilineal DNA, or about mitochondrial Eve, you should check out the documentary “The Real Eve” from the Discovery Channel!
Yep, it’s on YouTube. And now that you know the basics behind these complex topics, you’ll never look at your family tree the same again.