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Am J Hum Genet. 1989 Jan; 44(1): 73–85.
PMCID: PMC1715476

Origin and differentiation of human mitochondrial DNA.


A recent study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) polymorphism has generated much debate about modern human origins by proposing the existence of an "African Eve" living 200,000 years ago somewhere in Africa. In an attempt to synthesize information concerning human mtDNA genetic polymorphism, all available data on mtDNA RFLP have been gathered. A phylogeny of the mtDNA types found in 10 populations reveals that all types could have issued from a single common ancestral type. The distribution of shared types between continental groups indicates that caucasoid populations could be the closest to an ancestral population from which all other continental groups would have diverged. A partial phylogeny of the types found in five other populations also demonstrates that the myth of an African Eden was based on an incorrect "genealogical tree" of mtDNA types. Two measures of molecular diversity have been computed on all samples on the basis of mtDNA type frequencies, on one hand, and on the basis of the number of polymorphic sites in the samples, on the other. A large discrepancy is found between the two measures except in African populations; this suggests the existence of some differential selective mechanisms. The lapse of time necessary for creating the observed molecular diversity from an ancestral monomorphic population has been calculated and is found generally greater in Oriental and caucasoid populations. Implications concerning human mtDNA evolution are discussed.

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