Where did I come from?

Phylogenetic Relationships among Humans, again

In their first study published in 1987, Allan Wilson and his colleagues Mark Stoneking and Rebecca Cann found evidence for a recent common ancestry of humans in Africa. The second study, published in 1991 with Linda Vigilant and colleagues, using an improved methodology, supported the earlier findings. These studies overturned older ideas about human history. They generated a level of excitement which inspired scientists to apply new techniques to old problems. The rest, as they say, is history.

In summary, Wilson and colleagues concluded that the 135 mtDNA types found among 189 people, from five different geographic regions, indicated that the most recent common ancestor was a single female ancestor who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. They found no major point of disagreement with the first study. They concluded, again, that the results were not compatible with the Multi-regional Hypothesis, but instead they supported the Recent African Origin Hypothesis, of the origin of modern humans.

This study consolidated the earlier discovery that modern humans were much younger than previously thought. Of course, there were technical criticisms about how the study was performed. But, by the early 1990s, other studies of human genetic relationships were being undertaken by other research groups. During the subsequent 15 years the evidence for a recent African origin has continued to accumulate. This hypothesis is the current scientific theory for the origin of modern humans.

These studies by Wilson and his students have inspired studies on topics as diverse as the evolution of human language and culture, our genetic relationship with Neanderthal man, the patterns of human population growth (demographics) since departure from Africa, and the timing of human movement into other regions (the Americas and the Pacific). In support of, and sometimes in advance of, these studies there have been many advances in the mathematical methods used in reconstructing these evolutionary histories. The Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution has played a significant role in many of these activities.