Have you ever wished that you could travel back through time? Most of us, if not all of us, have daydreamed about just such a thing. Growing up with movies like “Time Tunnel” and “Back to the Future” have fueled our imaginations.
Today using genetic science we can get a glimpse of our past by stepping back in time, not through a mystic portal or modified sports car but through our DNA. There is so much information available through our genetic material, that it should yield a tremendous amount of knowledge about the past.
Each one of our cells contains millions and often billions of bits of genetic information. This incredible storehouse of information is now being revealed by what is called “gene sequencing techniques.” It is possible that from this information, we may one day even be able to obtain a good estimate of the date of the Creation.
A study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutation rates is of interest in this respect. A 1997 article in Nature Genetics 15(4):363-367 stated. “Mitochondrial DNA is inherited almost exclusively from mother to children. Also, it is reasonable to expect that this DNA mutates at a constant rate.
Therefore, one might expect mtDNA to provide a good estimate of the elapsed time since the common maternal ancestor of all human beings.” A few years ago a team of biologists, using this line of reasoning, developed the controversial “mitochondrial Eve” hypothesis. From initial studies it was estimated that this alleged common maternal ancestor of all humans, lived approximately 100,000-200,000 years ago. Conveniently dated to approximate the supposed evolutionary time frame.
It is important to note that during the initial studies, the true mutation rate of mtDNA was not known, but was inferred based on evolutionary assumptions. Today, however, we have more advanced scientific methods available to us, and the rate of mutation is now able to be measured explicitly and has been found to be 20 times higher than was originally expected.
This is exciting for those who believe in the Bible and a relatively young earth, as it changes the date of the “mitochondrial Eve” to about 6,500 years ago. It is yet another example of how modern science is coming into sync with the Biblical record. On the cautious side we must confess that research in this area is still new and these findings have yet to be subjected to additional rigorous testing and thus confirmed. However, we should look for more data of this type as more mutation rates are measured directly.
So how do they arrive at the 6500 years?
The age can be derived as follows. There is a region in the mtDNA that is known as the “control region,” and appears to be largely without function. The recent study found that there is about one mutation every 33 generations in part of this region. Thus after 33 generations, two individuals would be expected to differ by about 2 mutations in this region, since mutations could occur along two lines of inheritance.
After 300 generations, two individuals would be expected to differ by about 18 mutations, which is nearly the value that is observed. This puts the age of the human race at about 300 generations. Assuming a generation time of 20 years, this is about 6000 years. Of course, there is some uncertainty in the calculations because of random fluctuations in the mutation rate.
The authors of the Nature Genetics article have a big problem with this time frame and thus do not believe that this “mitochondrial Eve” lived only 6,500 years ago., In attempting to explain away this discrepancy, one biologist stated “The control region really does have a function, and the great majority of the mutations to this region are slightly harmful and are eventually eliminated from the population.”
It was a nice try, however, this seems unlikely, since the mtDNA has been completely mapped, and is well understood. All the coding regions are known, and it is known for what proteins they code.
As is usual with creation related discoveries of this kind, this new study has not been reported in the media. There have been no news reports or sensational cover stories by Time Magazine stating, “mitochondrial Eve” may have lived 6,500 years ago. This is an indication of how readily the media reports discoveries that support evolution, but largely ignores those that support a recent creation?
Brian Sass, B.SC. Paleobiology, works in the information technology industry. He has also served as Director of Technical Development for Creation Generation. Brian has been part of two expeditions into the interior of the African rainforest in 2003 and 2004 searching for evidence of modern dinosaurs. These expeditions turned into significant missionary outreaches as he shared the gospel with a number of isolated African tribal communities.