Are Chinese descendants of an African Eve?

By Ren Zhongxi, Wang Yanfang and Huang Shan
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, November 24, 2009
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Professor Jin Li of the Research Center of Contemporary Anthropology at Shanghai Fudan University (RCCASFU) says he has proved modern Chinese people originated in Africa. His research, based on DNA testing techniques that have transformed the study of human evolution, supports the global scientific consensus that all modern humans are descended from people who migrated from Africa tens of thousands of years ago. The so-called "out-of-Africa" theory is the current scientific consensus and seems to be based on convincing genetic data.


An archeologist is doing research on ancient human fossils unearthed in China.

But archeologists have spent decades studying the fossil remains of ancient populations of hominids that lived in China long before the African migrants arrived. The question arises – what happened to these early humans? Were they killed off by the newcomers? Is it possible that the two populations interbred, and would that help explain some puzzling physical differences between modern East Asians and people in Africa and elsewhere? Despite the DNA evidence, some Chinese archeologists continue to defend a multi-regional theory of human evolution – in which different populations around the world evolved from local hominids independently.

All modern humans are descended from a 200,000-year-old African woman

Professor Jin published first his research in 2001, but he was not the first to reach essentially the similar conclusions. In 1987 the New Zealander Allan Charles Wilson and Rebecca Cann published a study of mitochondrial DNA that supported the "African Eve" theory – that all human beings living today are descendents of a single woman who lived in Africa around 200,000 years ago. According to Wilson and Cann descendents of this "African Eve" migrated around the world and later evolved into the different varieties of modern humans.

Since then more and more genetic evidence has accumulated, all supporting the view that modern humans, including Chinese people, originated from a single population in Africa. In 1998, Chinese scientist Chu Jiayou and his team analyzed the DNA microsatellites (also known as simple sequence repeats) of northern and southern Chinese, both those of Han and ethnic minorities. Chu concluded that the ancestors of the modern Chinese had migrated to China from Africa via South Asia.

As the mutation rate of DNA microsatellites is high, it is not the best method available for researching ancient human migration and the evolution process. Su Bing and other scientists from the Kunming Institute of Zoology proposed an alternative approach using single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the Y-chromosome (Y-SNP). This was the approach used by Prof. Jin Li and associate professor Li Hui.

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