Mitochondrial Eve

Mitochondrial [mahy-tuh-kon-dree-uhlEve refers to the most recent common matrilineal ancestor from whom all living humans are descended. Passed down from mother to offspring, all mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in every living person is directly descended from hers. Mitochondrial Eve is the female counterpart of Y-chromosomal Adam, the patrilineal most recent common ancestor, although they lived thousands of years apart. Mitochondrial Eve is generally estimated to have lived around 200,000 years ago, most likely in East Africa, when Homo sapiens sapiens were developing as a species separate from other hominids.

One of the misconceptions of mitochondrial Eve is that since all women alive today descended in a direct unbroken female line from her that she was the only woman alive at the time. However nuclear DNA studies indicate that the size of the ancient human population never dropped below some tens of thousands;  there were many other women around at Eve’s time with descendants alive today, but somewhere in all their lines of descent there is at least one man (and men do not pass on their mothers’ mitochondrial DNA to their children). By contrast, Eve’s lines of descent to each person alive today includes at least one line of descent to each person which is purely matrilineal.

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