Article ID: CBB227775070

(re)Producing mtEve (2020)


In their 1987 Nature publication, “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution,” Rebecca Cann, Mark Stoneking, and Allan C. Wilson gave a new reconstruction of human evolution on the basis of differences in mitochondrial DNA among contemporary human populations. This phylogeny included an African common ancestor for all human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages, and Cann et al.’s reconstruction became known as the “Out of Africa” hypothesis. Since mtDNA is inherited exclusively through the maternal line, the common ancestor who was first branded African Eve later became known as Mitochondrial Eve (mtEve, for short). In this paper, I show that mtEve was not a single, successful, or purely scientific discovery. Instead, she was produced many times and in many ways, each of which informed the next. Importantly, though Wilson and colleagues heralded mitochondrial DNA as a source of certainty, objectivity, and consensus for evolutionary inference, their productions of Mitochondrial Eve depended as much on popular assumptions about the certainty of maternal inheritance as they did on new molecular and computational tools. This recognition lets us reevaluate the complex consequences of these productions, which, like mtEve herself, could not be confined to a purely social, material, or scientific dimension.

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Authors & Contributors
Nelson, Alondra
Suárez, Edna M.
Mameli, Matteo
Witkowski, Jan A.
Gingras, Yves
Brown, Ricardo
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Science, Technology and Human Values
Journal of the History of Biology
Archives of Natural History
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
Pickering & Chatto
Rutgers University Press
Harvard University
University of California, Santa Cruz
Science and race
Human genetics
Crick, Francis
Watson, James Dewey
Darwin, Charles Robert
Hennig, Willi
Hodgson, Geoffrey M.
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century, early
19th century
United States
Great Britain
South America

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