Allan C. Wilson studied genes, proteins, and body structures of animals and humans in the US during the second half of the twentieth century. Wilson also studied human evolution. Although morphology and behaviors of humans (Homo sapiens) and great apes differ, Wilson found that they have biochemical and genetic similarities. Wilson and his colleagues calculated the time period of humans' and African apes' common ancestor. Wilson and his team also studied DNA outside of the nucleus in the cellular energy producing particles, called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), to study when different human groups evolved from each other.

To study human evolution, researchers sometimes use microstructures found in human teeth and their knowledge of the processes by which those structures grow. Human fetusus begin to develop teeth in utero. As teeth grow, they form a hard outer substance, called enamel, through a process called amelogenesis. During amelogenesis, incremental layers of enamel form in a Circadian rhythm. This rhythmic deposition leaves the enamel with microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, which have a regular periodicity. Because enamel is not renewed throughout life like other tissues, teeth preserve the timing and details of a person's growth and development. Thus, enamel microstructures, from living people and from fossilized teeth, can be used to reconstruct the growth, development, and life histories of current and past humans. Researchers can also compare current and fossilized microstructures to trace changes in those traits over the course of human evolution.

In 1987 Rebecca Louise Cann, Mark Stoneking, and Allan Charles Wilson published Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution in the journal Nature. The authors compared mitochondrial DNA from different human populations worldwide, and from those comparisons they argued that all human populations had a common ancestor in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Mitochondria DNA (mtDNA) is a small circular genome found in the subcellular organelles, called mitochondria. Mitochondria are organelles found outside of the nucleus in the watery part of the cell, called cytoplasm, of most complex cells (eukaryotes). Cann, Stoneking and Wilson collected mtDNA from 147 individuals from five different human geographical populations. Cann, Stoneking, and Wilson used mtDNA sequences to study the genetic differences and migration patterns of the human population through female inheritance. Mammals inherit mitochondria and mtDNA from their mothers through the egg cell (oocyte), and mitochondria are responsible for several maternally inherited diseases.

Tooth enamel contains relics of its formation process, in the form of microstructures, which indicate the incremental way in which it forms. These microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, develop as enamel-forming cells called ameloblasts, whcih cyclically deposit enamel on developing teeth in accordance with two different biological clocks. Cross-striations result from a twenty-four hour cycle, called a Circadian rhythm, in the enamel deposition process, while striae of Retzius have a longer periodicity. Unlike other tissues, enamel does not remodel after it forms, leaving those microstructures intact after deposition. Cross-striations and striae of Retzius thus provide evidence of the timing and processes of tooth development, and they indicate how organisms in a lineage differently grow and develop across generations. Researchers have examined those microstructures to investigate human evolution.

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