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Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans

Abstract

If a common ancestor of all living humans is defined as an individual who is a genealogical ancestor of all present-day people, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for a randomly mating population would have lived in the very recent past1,2,3. However, the random mating model ignores essential aspects of population substructure, such as the tendency of individuals to choose mates from the same social group, and the relative isolation of geographically separated groups. Here we show that recent common ancestors also emerge from two models incorporating substantial population substructure. One model, designed for simplicity and theoretical insight, yields explicit mathematical results through a probabilistic analysis. A more elaborate second model, designed to capture historical population dynamics in a more realistic way, is analysed computationally through Monte Carlo simulations. These analyses suggest that the genealogies of all living humans overlap in remarkable ways in the recent past. In particular, the MRCA of all present-day humans lived just a few thousand years ago in these models. Moreover, among all individuals living more than just a few thousand years earlier than the MRCA, each present-day human has exactly the same set of genealogical ancestors.

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Figure 1: World map viewed as a ten-node graph.
Figure 2: Geography and migration routes of the simulated model.

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Acknowledgements

The research of D.L.T.R. was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Douglas L. T. Rohde.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods A

This file contains additional Methods (Further explanation and derivations of mathematical results) and an extra reference. (PDF 115 kb)

Supplementary Methods B

This file contains additional Methods (further details of the computational model), Supplementary Figure 1, Supplementary Table 1 and extra references. (PDF 196 kb)

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Rohde, D., Olson, S. & Chang, J. Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans. Nature 431, 562–566 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02842

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