Tracing Human Origins Through Genetic Data
Molecular anthropology attempts to answer such questions as whether humans are more genetically similar to chimpanzees than to gorillas; in what region or regions modern humans first developed; what the patterns are of migration and mixture of early human populations; and whether Neandertals were a different species, and whether they died out or mixed in with modern humans. Molecular anthropology is perhaps best known for the studies that surround the discovery of "mitochondrial Eve" (discussed below), although the meaning of that discovery is often misunderstood.
Two major approaches are used in addressing these questions, both of which involve analyzing DNA. The first and most common approach is to compare the DNA of groups of living organisms, for example, comparing humans to humans or humans to primates. The second approach relies on isolating and analyzing DNA from an ancient source, and comparing it to other ancient DNA or to modern DNA. In both cases, the number of differences between the DNA sequences of the two groups are determined, and these are used to draw conclusions about the relatedness of the two groups, or the time since they diverged from a common ancestor, or both.
The results of molecular anthropological studies are rarely used alone. Instead, the data are combined with information from fossils, archaeological excavations, linguistics, and other sources. Sometimes the data from these different sources conflict, however, and much of the controversy in anthropology centers around how much weight to give each when this occurs.
Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 3Molecular Anthropology - Tracing Human Origins Through Genetic Data, Advantages Of Dna Comparisons, Caveats About Sequence Comparisons, Types Of Dna Comparisons