Specific works/DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography (DVD)/DNA science error and misrepresentation

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

DNA science: error and misrepresentation

A FAIR Analysis of: DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography (DVD); Introduction to Book of Mormon Evidences (Seminar), a work by author: The FIRM Foundation

Errors in presentation of genetic data

Mitochondrial clock puts "Eve" to 6,000 years ago

Claim: An article in the journal Science "called "Calibrating the Mitochondrial Clock" it said, '...researchers have calculated that 'mitochondrial Eve'—the woman whose mtDNA was ancestral to that of all living people—lived [100,000 to] 200,000 years ago in Africa. Using this new clock (this new calibration), she would be a mere 6,000 years old.'"

Facts: The work presented in Science served to prove that a key assumption required for "molecular clocks" was inaccurate. The authors of the Science article suggested that part of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) called the "control region" was not a good place for a DNA clock. This was conclusively demonstrated within two years by the same research team, who found that "the [control region of mtDNA] has not [changed] at a constant rate across all human lineages...and is consequently less suitable for dating..." In contrast, the areas "outside of the [control region change] in a roughly 'clock-like' manner, enabling a more accurate measurement of mutation rate, and therefore improved estimates of times to evolutionary events."[1]

Researchers then performed a check on their X-chromosome and mtDNA clocks. They knew that nuclear DNA (where the X-chromosome is located) changes about three times slower than mtDNA, which would put the last common ancestor about three times further back in time than mtDNA calculations would.

Their X-chromosome DNA clock put the last common ancestor at 535,000 ± 119,000 years. A third of that would be about 178,000 years ± 40,000 years. Their mtDNA clock gave a last common ancestor at 171,500—once the faulty "control region" was left out. This is an impressive match, and since it comes from two separate, unrelated techniques, they confirm each other—yet more evidence that something was wrong with the mtDNA clock that used the control region.

So, within two years of the article used in the DVD presentation, the problem had been defined and a solution found. The FIRM Foundation must have been unaware of this updated information because their assumptions and conclusions are based on a misreading of the outdated data presented in the Science news summary. However, despite having this pointed out to them, they continue to rely upon flawed reasoning.

Mitochondrial DNA not useful for dating?

Claim: A 2005 paper is cited as claiming that don't use DNA for dating old things. It's great for current day stuff but not for old things. You can't use it for dating (Meldrum, DVD (2007), Sect #1, 37:18.).

Facts: The paper says nothing of the sort. Citation from the paper is below; the material left uncited is in italics:

In any event, because a significant number of the mutations observed in pedigree data have arisen recently [i.e., they have occurred in the short term] and will probably not become fixed [i.e., they will not become features of the mtDNA of their descendants in the long term, for a variety of reasons already discussed in the paper], the phylogenetic rate (which represents mutations that have reached an appreciable frequency in the population [over the long term]) may be preferable for studies of deep history, whereas it may be advisable to use the pedigree rate for studies of recent history. Alternatively, studies of population history could incorporate models that allow for different classes of [mtDNA] sites with different evolutionary rates. For example, Hasegawa et al. showed that a model that includes rate variation in the mtDNA control region gave an estimate for the age of the human mtDNA ancestor that was half that obtained when a single mutational rate was assumed. Therefore, average estimates of the mutation rate for human mtDNA do not reflect the true state of affairs, and should be viewed as simplistic tools for phylogenetic [i.e., evolutionary, or long time scale] studies....
This means that care must be taken when using mtDNA data to date phylogenetic events [i.e., deep history] as the underlying assumption of neutral clock-like evolution may not hold. However, the basic results of mtDNA studies, such as a recent initial migration out of Africa and subsequent world-wide dispersal of modern humans, are not affected by [the problems we've discussed], and, furthermore, are supported by a wide array of other loci.[2]

The scientists disagree with the presentation's assertion. They are saying we should not use mtDNA (especially the control region) as the only source of dating without being aware of all the factors in play. But, other DNA dating methods work very well and they are part of how we know that the mtDNA is wrong in some situations. It is erroneous to claim that these authors do not think that DNA can be used to date "old things."

Haplogroup X

Main article: Haplotype_X2a

Claim: "But the final is really where it gets exciting, brothers and sisters. "Finally, phylogeography of the subclades of haplogroup X suggests that the Near East is the likely geographical source for the spread of sub-haplogroup X2...The presence of a daughter clade [evolutionary group] in Northern Native Americans testifies to the range of this population's expansion. It is notable that X2 includes the two complete Native American X sequences."(Meldrum, DVD (2007), Sect #1, 42:11-42:47.).

Fact: A key phrase has been omitted from the cited material, marked with ellipsis above (...). It is marked in italics below:

Finally, phylogeography of the subclades of haplogroup X suggests that the Near East is the likely geographical source for the spread of sub-haplogroup X2, and the associated population dispersal occurred around, or after, the LGM [Last Glacial Maximum] when the climate ameliorated [improved]. The presence of a daughter clade [evolutionary group] in northern Native Americans testifies to the range of this population expansion.[3]

The Last Glacial Maximum is approximately 18,000 years ago—long before the Nephites.

The head of the FIRM Foundation, when presented with this information, implied that he had removed the material in italics because he does not believe humans can date from before 6,000 years ago:

Do you believe in the scriptures as revealed by God’s prophets? Please explain to me then how you seem to think that these people arrived prior to Adam, who arrived only about 6,000 years ago.[4]

While he is entitled to his opinion, it is inappropriate to alter a citation from a scientific source to make it appear that they support his view of an earth younger than 10,000, when they are specifically speaking of at least 18,000 years ago.

Main article: Age of the Earth

Second witness

Claim: A paper from Evolutionary Anthropology is cited as a "second witness" for the Haplotype X2a argument (Meldrum, DVD (2007), Sect #1, 28:10-28:45.).

Fact: Material which does not support the FIRM Foundation goes unmentioned (emphasis added):

Although apparently sharing a [female line] ancestor with the European haplogroup X at some point in deep time [i.e., before historical periods], the Native American sequences formed their own branches independent of European representatives of haplogroup X....
...the discovery of haplogroup X as a founding Native American lineage, fueled premature speculation about early European migrations to the New World. Genetic evidence does not support such a migration. Furthermore, the lack of other more common European haplogroups (or other nonmitochondrial genetic markers) in unadmixed Native Americans makes this scenario unlikely.[5]

The Evolutionary Anthropology paper also gives a range of times based on the (imperfect) mtDNA clock for the split off of the founders in America: 40,000-11,000 years ago.[6] Even at the most optimistic, this is much too early for Lehi. But, again, the presentation does not mention this either.

Computer model instead of reality


Because in this article, American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2005), this article is titled "The Rapid Deployment of the Five Founding Amerind Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroups by a Coastal and Riverine Colonization."
Now, I know that's a mouthful, but basically what they're saying is that Haplogroup X colonization spread up the Mississippi River. They started from here at this amount of X and they ended up here at this amount of X. There's every indication that whoever these Hopewell mound building people were they started from down here and moved up there (Meldrum, DVD (2007), Sect #13, 2:15-2:50.).

Fact: This is not true. The cited journal article is a computer model. The author does not claim it is a true model of what happened, he merely wishes to prove that such a spread is possible and that spreading in this way would allow the five North American haplotypes to achieve the ratio we see today:

The results of the simulation model demonstrate that the pattern of variation characteristic of mtDNA in the Americas could have been established by a [Pacific] coast route of colonization...However, the fact that the simulation model is consistent with the empirical situation does not necessarily demonstrate that it represents the actual process that generated the distribution.[7]

The paper is also quite clear that the model considers haplogroup X to be part of the founding people from Asia, claiming that "a single colonization wave" best explains the haplogroup ratios observed today and puts this date long before the Nephites, from 11,000-20,000 years ago.[7] These ideas are fatal to the FIRM Foundation's views, but they never make it into the presentation. The computer model studied is very clear that it assumes haplogroup X starts in Asia with haplogroups A, B, C, and D. It then moves down the Pacific coast via Alaska—the very route that the FIRM Foundation has told us is impossible.


  1. M. Ingman, et al., "Mitochondrial Genome Variation and the Origin of Modern Humans," Nature 408:6813 (2000), 708, 712.
  2. B. Pakendorf and M. Stoneking, "Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution," Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics 6 (2005), 169, 173.
  3. M. Reidla, et al., "Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X," American Journal of Human Genetics 73:5 (2003), 1188.
  4. Rod Meldrum, FAIR Blog comment (5 Sept 2008, 0h49) off-site
  5. Jason A. Eshleman, et al., "Mitochondrial DNA Studies of Native Americans: Conceptions and Misconceptions of the Population Prehistory of the Americas," Evolutionary Anthropology 12 (2003), 10–11.
  6. Jason A. Eshleman, et al., "Mitochondrial DNA," 10.
  7. 7.0 7.1 A.G. Fix, "Rapid Deployment of the Five Founding Amerind mtDNA Haplogroups Via Costal and Riverine Colonization," American Journal of Physical Anthropology 128:2 (2005), 433, emphasis (italics) added, underlining in original.

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims