Douglas C. Wallace, PhD


More than 35 years ago, Dr. Wallace and his colleagues founded the field of human mitochondrial genetics. The mitochondria are the cellular power plants, organelles that generate most of the cell’s energy. The mitochondria also contain their own DNA, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which encodes the wiring diagram for the cell’s power plants. Dr. Wallace showed that the mtDNA is inherited exclusively from the mother and that genetic alterations in the mtDNA can result is a wide range of metabolic and degenerative diseases as well as being important in cancer and aging.

One of his seminal contributions has been to use mtDNA variation to reconstruct the origin and ancient migrations of women. These studies revealed that humans arose in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago, that women left Africa about 65,000 years ago to colonize Eurasia, and from Siberia, they crossed the Bering land bridge to populate the Americas. Studies on the paternally-inherited Y chromosome showed that men went along too.