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Read Professor Derek Matravers's comments
I was part of the OU team that worked with the BBC on this programme. I thought it was an important documentary, and am glad it inspired these contributions to the forum. Thanks for writing in and sharing your experiences.
11th Feb 2016
You are right; that part of the programme is certainly open to misinterpretation (one of the perils of making the kind of programme to fit that slot on BBC1). All our genetic material can be traced back in time, but only so far as a certain point. This point (serial coalescence) is the length of time ago that it will have taken for all the observable genetic variation in contemporary population’s genetic material to have developed through mutation, genetic drift, admixture, and so on. This is analogous to tracing a family tree back to a founding individual but it is not the same and it does not imply that there was ever one individual who held all our genetic variation. The degree of variation in all our mitochondrial genetic material (that is, that passed from mother to daughter) is such that it may have derived from that contained within a very small population (theoretically possibly only one female) that moved out of Africa c.150,000 years ago (debated!) and subsequently multiplied to colonise the remainder of the world. It does not imply that we are all in a lineal decent from this individual (so 'Mother' is a bit of dramatic licence!), nor that she is the source of all our genetic material. Or course, if that particular individual had not existed it is very unlikely that the history of the world would have been much different. Derek Matravers (Arts Media Fellow) on behalf of the OU academic consultant team for Andrew Marr’s History of the World.
27th Sep 2012