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A Teeny-Tiny Torah
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Wendy Wippel

One of the more fascinating discoveries to come along in the field of molecular biology has been the realization that certain pieces of the DNA can be used to reconstruct a detailed history of our ancient past.  A history of the human race, written inside our DNA, in a language we have only recently learned to read.

Spencer Wells, formerly of Oxford University in England and now head of the Human Genographic Project observed that “Every drop of human blood contains a history book written in the language of our genes.” (Journey of Man).  Brian Sykes, also at Oxford University, described the book as one that “details human history, written inside the cells of every man” (The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry), going on to describe this history as one that far predates "written records or even stone inscriptions”.

It's a fascinating development, and one made even more interesting by the fact that the history recorded in our DNA bears striking resemblance, in exquisite detail, to that recorded thousands of years ago in the book of Genesis.

DNA, as you may remember from high school biology, is basically a blueprint of the body that is contained in every cell.

Most of the DNA is in the nucleus; one small piece of DNA is found within the mitochondria (an energy-producing organelle within the cell).   These lineage studies, like forensic analyses, look at differences between individual DNA samples.

Lineage studies, however,  require the use of DNA segments that do not mix together during reproduction: the Y-chromosome (passed only from father to son) and the mitochondrial DNA (acquired only from the mother).  Since these segments of DNA are passed on to offspring by only one parent, they can be used to look straight back in time at paternal (Y-chromosome) or maternal (mitochondrial DNA) ancestry.

A landmark study by Cann, Stoneking and Wilson in 1987 used mitochondrial DNA analysis to study populations all over the world and (expecting to find multiple points of origin for humanity) surprisingly found that all subjects tested could be traced back to one single human female ancestor, dubbed “mitochondrial Eve”.

Y-chromosome analysis followed shortly (Underhill, 2000), which similarly found that all living human males could be traced back to a single male ancestor, now called Y-chromosome Adam.

Despite the biblical monikers, the scientists involved are quick to assert that these two figures could not represent the scriptural figures they are named for.  The researchers' calculations (based on the expected rates of mutation in the two pieces of DNA) showed that "mitochondrial Eve" lived sometime before "Y-chromosome Adam", prompting newspaper headlines in 2000 that said “Adam and Eve never met!”. This prompted one scientist to proclaim that it was now “still more difficult to believe in the Biblical couple who were expelled from the earthly paradise.”

Maybe they had forgotten their Sunday School stories. The scientists, in an attempt to explain why their Adam and Eve didn't rendezvous in history explained that a genetic bottleneck must have occurred-- a genetic bottleneck being some sort of catastrophic event that reduced the population to the point where the genetic signature of only one male individual has survived to this date.

Interestingly enough, there is genetic evidence of a less drastic bottleneck affecting the female line at the same point in time.

To anyone who has spent any time in Sunday School this should sound kind of familiar.  Noah, according to the Genesis account, lived at the time of a huge genetic bottleneck and was the only male individual alive at the time whose genetic signature was passed along to future generations. And, in fact, if the Genesis account was used to predict what genetic profile would exist in man today, it would be exactly what the secular scientists report.

Why?  What has been defined in both cases (Y-chromosome Adam and genetic Eve) are statistical entities called the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA), i.e, the earliest shared ancestor of the people who were actually tested.  

From the biblical account there were eight people on the ark: Noah, his three sons, and their respective wives. Since the Y-chromosome is passed from father to sons, Noah’s three sons would have inherited his Y-chromosome as would all future males, so Noah would be the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) of all males living today.

In contrast, we have no reason to believe that the four women on the ark were related. They would have possessed four different sets of mitochondrial markers, and their Most Recent Common Ancestor would have, by definition, been multiple generations earlier in the person of Eve.

Intriguingly, the Genesis account is reflected even in the language that the scientists employ. The Cann and Wilson paper describes mitochondrial Eve as the progenitor of every living human on the planet, almost eerily echoing her designation in Scripture as the “mother of all the living”.

Similarly, the Bible describes Noah as “one favored by God”—surely a fitting title for any individual whom science defines as the only male to survive a dramatic bottleneck and live to populate a whole new world.

Genesis, described by even the new Renovare Bible as mythology, continues to defy its critics.  Far from being a book of fables, it continues to prove itself to be a scientifically accurate account of God's work on planet earth.

Even the teeniest Torah tells the same story.

About Wendy Wippel

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