Thursday, July 7, 2011
Our greatest journey
The Symphony of Science series of videos is probably the best justification for the continued existence of auto-tune. The latest of these videos, which put various scientists and science communicator's words to music, deals with the history of our species - the fact we all descend from African ancestors and that all populations outside Africa are the result of migrations that started around 150 000 ago:
It's a matter of continual disappointment and annoyance to me that most New Zealanders don't know that the person most responsible for finding our place in the biological world and locating the base of our family tree in Africa was a kiwi. Allan Wilson was a graduate of Otago University who went to Berkeley to use the new technologies that were developed for medical genetics to answer some of the oldest questions in biology. By sequencing DNA and looking at the cross-reactivity of immune system proteins, Wilson and his students established that humans only separated from other apes about 6 million years ago (as opposed to conformable distance of 25 million years paleontologists had favoured) and coined the term "Mitochondrial Eve" for one of the ancestors all modern humans can trace their origin to. This 'Eve' lived 150 000 years ago in Africa, so, just as Alice Roberts says in the video, we are all children of Africa.
These findings absolutely changed the way we think of ourselves as a species, and New Zealanders should know a kiwi was behind them! Thankfully the Royal Society has just announced one of Wilson's students, and a co-author on the most important papers, Rebbecca Cann is coming to New Zealand to talk about Wilson and his legacy. If you get a chance, I really encourage you to get along and hear her talk.