Health Warning: Your IQ will get tested to understand this article 😉
In simple discoveries sometimes lie surprising facts. One such discovery in 1960s, decades later led to a shocking realisation that changed the way we look at the people around us. It was about the woman in this picture. Yes, an African villager who looks completely unimportant. But believe me, her story is related to all of us! Yes ALL!
Let me first tell you whatever little we know about her. Unfortunately, we don't know her name but we do know she lived in the wetlands of Makadikadi in Botswana, Africa somewhere in the location marked in the map. She lived in a tribe of some 200 people which had almost 100 men and 100 women completely cut off from the rest of the world. Uneducated, uncivilised and surviving as a hunter gatherer in those jungles of Makadikadi, unaware that a blog and books will be written about her.
Some Biology before we move ahead...
We all know that the humans, like all living creatures, are made of cells. All our cells have a nucleus inside. And inside this nucleus is something called a chromosome. In these chromosomes lie the the DNA which make us human. DNA is responsible for every characteristic of our body like the colour of our eyes, the shape of our nose, colour of our hair, colour of our skin and many more.
But one fine day scientists - Margit Nass and Sylvan Nass while studying a human cell found something strange while studying the Mitochondria. Mitochondria is called the power house of the cell. But they found that there was a small piece of DNA sitting secretly undiscovered inside the Mitochondria. Nobody had noticed it in so many years of research because it was a very very small piece.
They named it Mitochrondrial DNA or mtDNA in short. It was an interesting discovery because now they could study this mtDNA of different people and see what was the difference in mtDNA from person to person and how it affected our bodies - our height or our weight or our strength, what was it doing?
A boring result of the long experiment ...
Extensive experimentation showed that every person that the scientists tested had the same mtDNA. It was a boring result because they found nothing new when they tested more and more people. Slowly and slowly as they gathered more data they realised that it was true, all humans had the same mtDNA. It became a completely useless discovery.
An interesting turn of events ...
Decades later in 1980s, while doing some random experiments another scientist realised that whenever a human cell reproduces, the mtDNA always comes from the mother and never from the father. This was strange because we knew that the DNA of a child half comes from father and half comes from the mother. It was confusing but after some time the scientist literally fainted because he was shocked. Why was he shocked? Put on your thinking cap and focus!
The shocking result...
Look at these things he realised from his experiments -
In a child mtDNA always comes from the mother
All humans tested were found to have the same mtDNA
This meant that the all humans had the same first mother. It's the woman you saw on top of the blog. She lived some 155,000 years ago. Scientists named her the "Mitochondrial Eve" (like the Adam & Eve). And she gave birth to some children who gave birth to more children who gave birth to more children and so on ..... until 155,000 years later we are more than 7 billion. And our history, all of it started from the wetlands of Makadikadi with her. This was fully confirmed in 2004-05 when scientists completed the "Human Genome" project.
Let it sink! It's a humbling truth. With all our differences and arguments, at the end of the day we all belong to that one mother of humanity. Then, who are we to discriminate? Brahmins and South Indians and Africans and Muslims and Baniyas and Christians and whatever? Science has left us no reasons to discriminate and be ignorant bigots. It's a humbling discovery that teaches us to respect and love each other beyond our surface differences.
For those of you who are thinking what happened to the other 99 women who lived with her? The mtDNA of those women at some point of time in generations disappeared when they or their future generations did not give birth to a girl child who could have carried their mtDNA further. Only our "Mitochondrial Eve" survived. This is mathematically logical and you can understand it from this diagram and further in the video.
The bonus video for today's blog talks more about the Mitochondrial Eve if you want to know more about her and the discovery. If you liked the article please like, share and subscribe.
PS: This is a series of blog posts every weekend - Saturday and Sunday - for my students to learn and benefit from. A way for us to remain connected beyond school and tuition classes. I welcome suggestions from my students about the topics they would like me to research and write about. If your suggestion is selected, I will mention your name in credits of the blog. Please like, share and subscribe to the blog for more grown-up advice. Stay safe and stay connected always :).