Some creationists, such as Roger Liebi, actively exploit this article:

A high observed substitution rate in the human mitochondrial DNA control region (published in Nature Genetics, April 1997).

This study directly measured the mitochondrial DNA mutations rate across 327 generational events (mother-daughter, grandmother-granddaughter, and siblings) and calculated it to be 20x greater than values previously estimated by evolutionary models.

It gives the age of mitochondrial Eve to be 6500 years, which is surprisingly similar to the biblical (Jewish calendar) date.

I am looking for the best way to disprove this position.

Since 1997, has this article been disproved?

What is the best way to disprove this estimate?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It's not much use to argue with creationists who didn't get to their positions from science in the first place. biology.stackexchange.com/questions/7184/… may help you. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 1, 2020 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer, i also would like to have an info about normal article where the mitochondrial DNA mutation speed is properly empirically measured, means, like in this article but normally, with big base and not "not 10 mutations on 300 events" $\endgroup$
    – Smer5
    Aug 1, 2020 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ If you feel you want to try - its an experience you might learn from, 'Giving up' is not always the right advice. acheological evidence that is not DNA based... nature.com/articles/1601646 radiocarbon dating was the most common evidence before 2000. I do agree with the others that there are alt explanations for all this data tho... I really do think this a valid question and downvoting it is unfriendly and it doesn't invite the spirit of enquery which is the basis for all the best science. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Aug 1, 2020 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ If the age of Mitochondrial Eve actually is consistent with the Biblical account, then so what? That doesn't prove that there was a flood or that some shepherd led his people across a river. Even a broken clock is right sometimes. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2020 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ Quick science lesson, if you use a much smaller sample size and get a drastically different answer, statistically you are far more likely to be the one who is wrong. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 2, 2020 at 14:38

1 Answer 1


Estimating the age of the so-called "mitochondrial Eve" (i.e. the most recent common ancestor, MRCA, regarding mtDNA) is a very complex issue, exactly for the difficulty in correctly estimating the mutation rate.

So, it is not so easy to disprove the estimate, but at the same time there aren't particular reasons to choose that (and not the several other available estimates) as the correct one.

I point you to three papers that discuss the issues of estimating mtDNA mutation rates and my be of interest for you:

  1. Estimation of Past Demographic Parameters From the Distribution of Pairwise Differences When the Mutation Rates Vary Among Sites: Application to Human Mitochondrial DNA
  2. Pattern of Nucleotide Substitution and Rate Heterogeneity in the Hypervariable Regions I and II of Human mtDNA
  3. Hypervariable Sites in the mtDNA Control Region Are Mutational Hotspots

It will also be an interesting exercise for you to collect from these papers (and the several references therein) all the different estimates of mtDNA mutation rates (and thus of age of the mitochondrial Eve) and you will realize how reliable the 6500 years (without confidence intervals) would be!

Finally, the literature I provide is well established, but also a bit old (but still more recent than the 1997 paper). You might want to see more recent literature.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Additionally it's very very important to realize that a "biblical Eve" as in "first woman" (a nonsense concept in biology) has nothing to do with "mitochondrial Eve". $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 2, 2020 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ I’m afraid that referring to papers is not an answer. Also the verb is “disprove” — the noun “proof” exists in English, but no noun “disproof”. Also note that appropriate questions for SE Biology regarding a paper like this are 1) whether the results are reliable or repeatable? 2) If so, how can they be interpreted? There is no need to even consider interpretations based on religious superstition. The general evidence for the dateline of evolution is supported by a mass of diverse evidence and is not in question. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Aug 3, 2020 at 20:09

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