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The Thirty-Three Daughters of Eve

By jd in MLP
Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 04:43:17 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

A researcher announced in the town of Hay-on-Wye that he has proof that the entire human race, as it exists today, descended from thirty-three individuals, the Daughters of Eve. Further, he goes on to claim that there are only seven such individuals for all Europeans, and that he can place them in terms of date and location.

Bryan Sykes (the researcher involved) then set up a service called MatriLine, which provides a DNA testing service. You give them a DNA sample, and some cash, and they'll give you the raw data in return, plus information on how to turn this data into a name, a place, and a date.

The science seems OK, but when you only have one expert, it's somewhat hard to verify. Further, the test is not cheap -- $220 for a single result, with slight discounts for bulk.

However, it would let you add an extra name to your family tree...


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I believe...
o This entire concept is pseudo-scientific piffle. 28%
o The work here conflicts with Creation Theory, and must be wrong. 3%
o A great marketing gimic, maybe even accurate, but still meaningless. 21%
o Someone's sponging off the masses' craving for identity. 21%
o Oh my giddy aunt! The quest for genes for criminality, etc, might now end up a Holy War! This guy's playing with dynamite! 1%
o It looks fascinating. I'd love more hard data, and maybe some results from this work. 8%
o Seven Doctor Whos. Seven "Daughters". No wonder he was always poking around Earth. It's all his fault! 11%
o Hey, what the hell! I'm not going to take it seriously, but I'd love to get an answer. I'm sending off for a test kit. 3%

Votes: 87
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Daughters of Eve
o MatriLine
o the test
o Also by jd

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The Thirty-Three Daughters of Eve | 21 comments (20 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
Just one ancestor? (3.83 / 6) (#1)
by typhatix on Tue May 29, 2001 at 05:15:21 PM EST

Perhaps I am not understanding, but the article refers to finding out which "clan" you are from. Aren't most people going to be from multiple "clans"? I don't think over the however many thousand years from your "clan mother" that only their offspring have mated with their offspring. This sounds like some real science with a hokey spin and a money making scheme or total stupidity. "Send in your $220 and find out YOUR clan! Act now and also get your clan mother pot holder and bookmark!"

Well for mitichondrial DNA... (4.80 / 5) (#2)
by SIGFPE on Tue May 29, 2001 at 05:29:54 PM EST

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother only and in principle at any moment in time in our past we have one matrilineal ancestor.

Nonetheless I still think the claims are obviously garbage (and not even meaningful) or irrelevant and look forward to hearing rebuttals from other geneticists. For example a black man need have one white ancestor in several million and they still might show up as 'white' because that ancestor was matrilineal.

A quick summary of why it's garbage:
(1) For any N you can choose N ancestors and declare we are all matrilineal ancestors of them.
(2) Finding 33 clusters means little other than...well...that there were 33 clusters. There is no unique definition of 'cluster'. Every clustering algorithm finds different clusters. Use different parameters with the same algorithm and you'll get N clusters for any N.

But yes...it does rake the money in.
[ Parent ]

Mitochondrial DNA (4.50 / 2) (#8)
by Ludwig on Wed May 30, 2001 at 12:59:20 AM EST

A sperm cell's mitochondria are destroyed shortly after fertilization, but there seems to be some new evidence that the mechanism responsible for that task (and we still don't know the exact nature of that mechanism, although the best guess is that paternal mitochondria are tagged by the ovum with a marker protein, dooming them to the recycling bin) may not be 100% efficient all the time. (Sorry, I can't find the link to the article I read, but here's one from the NY Times.) So anthropological theories of matrilinearity predicated on mitochondrial DNA evidence may need to be rethought.

[ Parent ]
no extra name (3.50 / 2) (#3)
by Seumas on Tue May 29, 2001 at 05:35:44 PM EST

No, I don't think it would let you add an extra name to your tree. As I understood the article, the "Eve's" are merely representative of the 33 clusters and used for sampling.
I just read K5 for the articles.
Hmmm (3.33 / 3) (#5)
by Inoshiro on Tue May 29, 2001 at 07:18:20 PM EST

This looks a lot like the Greg Egan short story Mitochandrial Eve. In foct, a little too much like it. I wouldn't be surprised if some crazy reporter read Luminous (the callection of shart stories of which this is a part), and wrote this.

I suppose I should wait for a few years to see the sons of Adam come out with their trace along the Y chromosome line for when, and watch the ensuing battle.

[ イノシロ ]
short story based on scientific publication (5.00 / 2) (#9)
by iGrrrl on Wed May 30, 2001 at 09:07:50 AM EST

The first proposal of an African Eve based on mitochondrial DNA sequences was published in Science in 1991 (Sep 27;253(5027):1503-7) by Vigilant L. Stoneking M. Harpending H. Hawkes K. and Wilson AC.

Here's the abstract of the article:

The proposal that all mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types in contemporary humans stem from a common ancestor present in an African population some 200,000 years ago has attracted much attention. To study this proposal further, two hypervariable segments of mtDNA were sequenced from 189 people of diverse geographic origin, including 121 native Africans. Geographic specificity was observed in that identical mtDNA types are shared within but not between populations. A tree relating these mtDNA sequences to one another and to a chimpanzee sequence has many deep branches leading exclusively to African mtDNAs. An African origin for human mtDNA is supported by two statistical tests. With the use of the chimpanzee and human sequences to calibrate the rate of mtDNA evolution, the age of the common human mtDNA ancestor is placed between 166,000 and 249,000 years. These results thus support and extend the African origin hypothesis of human mtDNA evolution.
These results were not without controversy.

My beef with the CNN story may result from a misquote. The article quotes Sykes referring to "the mitochondrial gene." This is 'way off. Mitochondrial DNA contains many genes. He may have said "genome," which would have been more accurate; and if he didn't and he's only looking at one of the genes, then my skepticism bar goes up.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

Ha! (4.50 / 2) (#6)
by 0xdeadbeef on Tue May 29, 2001 at 07:26:07 PM EST

Greg Egan predicted exactly this sort of gimicky science in his short story "Mitochondrial Eve", six freakin' years ago. It's almost like this Sykes guy decided to imitate the kooks in the story.

Have you read Teranesia? (4.00 / 1) (#7)
by SIGFPE on Tue May 29, 2001 at 09:28:50 PM EST

Someone has written a book presenting the premise of that as science - after Teranesia was published. (Egan doesn't think it's a serious scientific hypothesis at all.) If you're interested I can find out it's name. Greg Egan is pretty good at staying ahead of the game!
[ Parent ]
That depends (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by 0xdeadbeef on Wed May 30, 2001 at 10:24:57 AM EST

Is the author a crank? Teranesia really threw me for a loop. It was one of those rare gems where my jaw drops, and I'm thinking, "my god, is that plausible?" Egan is about the only one that can still do that to me.

I'm gonna be scared when some publishes a paper that imitates Quarantine.

To iGrrrl: Yes, I know the science is genuine, I'm referring to the cult-like use to which it is being put. That was the focus of the story I mentioned.

You know, there sure are a lot of Egan fanboys on k5. :-)

[ Parent ]

Teranesia (none / 0) (#13)
by SIGFPE on Wed May 30, 2001 at 12:35:05 PM EST

Is the author a crank?
Here's Egan's response when it was pointed out to him that someone was taking the ideas in Teranesia seriously: "I certainly wasn't aware that anyone had proposed this idea seriously!...I'm amazed that any professional scientist could make this claim". I'm inclined to agree!
[ Parent ]
test = gimmick, but... (4.00 / 2) (#10)
by iGrrrl on Wed May 30, 2001 at 09:11:18 AM EST

...the science may be valid. See my response to Inoshiro. The original paper on an ancestral Eve was published 9.5 "freakin'" years ago.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

East of Eden (2.00 / 3) (#12)
by Orion Blastar on Wed May 30, 2001 at 11:04:45 AM EST

In the land of Nod, I tend to believe that God had created other human beings not mentioned in the bible. The garden of Eden was a test, not just for human beings, but for God's Angels to see if they would mess with a perfect world. One of them did, in the form of a serpent. I think God knew this would happen, but did it as a learning experience for humans that #1 we sin, #2 we can be tempted even in a "perfect world".

What about the "Sons of God" mentioned in Genesis? Any of us have Angel DNA? :)
*** Anonymized by intolerant editors at K5 and also IWETHEY who are biased against the mentally ill ***

No. (none / 0) (#17)
by Kupek on Thu May 31, 2001 at 03:14:43 PM EST

People with angel DNA have 6 fingers. And you don't. And that's what the flood was for, too. You don't think that "He" would do something so drastic as to drown the world and still not get the job done, do you?

Some people.

#include <wittyQuote.h>
[ Parent ]
I'm curious... (3.75 / 4) (#14)
by jd on Wed May 30, 2001 at 04:03:56 PM EST

How many people are marking this story down because they don't believe the argument by Bryan Sykes?

Now, what you do with your votes is entirely up to you, and frankly I don't give a damn whether the story is posted or turned into pizza slices.

The one and ONLY question I'd ask is: Are you marking this down, because you think it's a lousy story? (And that's more than fine! I'm a computer geek, not an English Classics professor. I'm going to write more crap than good stuff, and the crap's going to get flushed out.)

Normally, I would label this as a simple example of me writing very, very badly. Which, like I said, is going to happen. But the only critisisms I'm seeing are all about the subject, not the story. And it's for that reason that I'm curious. If the story -is- badly-written, and badly thought-out, then please tell me! If it's worth re-submitting, re-done, I'll do it. But I can't, if I don't have the foggiest what the problem(s) are.

Re: I'm currious... (none / 0) (#18)
by mcherm on Thu May 31, 2001 at 04:44:38 PM EST

I am marking it down because I don't believe the argument by Bryan Sykes, and because I believe that pseudo-science (but NOT contraversial science) needs to be rejected out-of-hand by respectable information outlets, to which catgegory I like to think K5 belongs.

-- Michael Chermside

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]

Combo (none / 0) (#19)
by Mad Hughagi on Fri Jun 01, 2001 at 12:52:56 AM EST

The story isn't really badly written.

I think it's pseudo-scientific nature is definately one of the problems.

The second would be that this is relatively old in terms of news (I know I hate it when people use this reason, sorry man) - for some reason CNN decided to announce this now, (probably in anticipation of his upcoming book release) however it has come up in the past and I even remember seeing it on /. back in April in this story.

No griefs though, if it does seem interesting enough to most people then I'm sure they will vote it up to post.


We don't make the products you like, we make you like the products we make.
[ Parent ]

Looking at Bryan Sykes' map... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
by jd on Wed May 30, 2001 at 04:18:11 PM EST

I can't help but notice that the geography, supposed paths, and times, don't seem to make any sense.

Why is this? Because there will have been multiple migrations of any given "clan", and each may or may not have followed a similar path.

I'd expect a much more diffuse patterning, which need not necessarily be "simply connected". (ie: two non-adjacent clans may overlap, without either having any association with any intermediate clans.)

For the graphs to be as "neat" as portrayed, each clan must have had ONE core migration, along ONE route, with NO splitting off at any point.

Further, any pre-existing hominids in those regions must have -entirely- been replaced. Merged wouldn't be good enough, as there'd be a 50/50 chance of the female line being the existing hominid.

(Such pre-existing hominids are known to have existed. There were probably hundreds of seperate explorations away from Africa. The skeleton known as "Lucy", for example, is from one such exploration that has since gone extinct, but was not related to either the early human line, OR the Neathaneral line.)

Because of the pre-existing tribes, and because of the high probability that early humans merged with, rather than always extinguished, every such tribe they encountered, the results sound bogus.

Let's play with numbers for a moment. Let's say that, of the hundreds of attempts to leave Africa, only 10 "clans" were viable, including Neathanderal and human. Let's say that, of every clan, there were only 10 females (at most) at any given time. That =STILL= gives you 100 possible DNA strands, and 100! possible geographical mappings.

Errr... That's a lot of combinations, folks! And that's just creating numbers at random. The actual figures are probably an order of magnitude higher. To get 7 patterns for the WHOLE of Europe, and 33 for the WHOLE globe is simply too small! WAAAY too small.

You make a good point, but consider this (none / 0) (#16)
by interrupt on Thu May 31, 2001 at 10:32:25 AM EST

Consider the possibility that life was, in fact, 'short, nasty, and brutish', and that the vast majority of these women did not survive to pass on their mitochondrial DNA (or survive long enough to ensure survival of their children). Sykes' scenario is more plausible if you consider a much higher rate of mortality.
"Morality is your agreement with yourself to abide by your own rules." -Jubal Harshaw in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land
[ Parent ]
Even if it's true, what does it mean? (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by bonoboy on Sat Jun 02, 2001 at 09:58:59 PM EST

It's a basic 'chicken-and-the-egg' folks. The science simply means nothing. It may be true that we're all descended from 33 women, but who were *they* descended from? Tracing us back to one Eve is meaningful, tracing us back to 33 women at completely arbitrary points in our species evolution is pointless.

I do agree that with the European "seven tribes" fixation, alot of people will want to know about special* radiation. But all this means is that at some stage in your ancestors' evolution, they might have lived in one of those places. Big deal. It doesn't say "this is where they stayed" or "this was evolutionarily significant because..." it just says someone might have been in one of those countries once. And in a few years, someone will look at a different gene on the mtDNA loop and find we all came from 46 "mothers".

Sorry, this is just a guy with a micropipette selling books cause he wasn't making a living with Tarot cards. Truly, one out of 33 people was Cleopatra in a former life. Give me some more scientific texts on his research and I'll reappraise it.

*As in 'species-specific geographic dispersal', not 'attractive nuclear waste'.

[ Parent ]
Agreed. (none / 0) (#21)
by jd on Mon Jun 04, 2001 at 09:17:04 AM EST

Nuff said. But, being me, I'll ramble on for a bit.

[ Parent ]
The Thirty-Three Daughters of Eve | 21 comments (20 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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