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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Apr 1979; 76(4): 1967–1971.
PMCID: PMC383514

Rapid evolution of animal mitochondrial DNA.


Mitochondrial DNA was purified from four species of higher primates (Guinea baboon, rhesus macaque, guenon, and human) and digested with 11 restriction endonucleases. A cleavage map was constructed for the mitochondrial DNA of each species. Comparison of the maps, aligned with respect to the origin and direction of DNA replication, revealed that the species differ from one another at most of the cleavage sites. The degree of divergence in nucleotide sequence at these sites was calculated from the fraction of cleavage sites shared by each pair of species. By plotting the degree of divergence in mitochondrial DNA against time of divergence, the rate of base substitution could be calculated from the initial slope of the curve. The value obtained, 0.02 substitutions per base pair per million years, was compared with the value for single-copy nuclear DNA. The rate of evolution of the mitochondrial genome appears to exceed that of the single-copy fraction of the nuclear genome by a factor of about 10. This high rate may be due, in part, to an elevated rate of mutation in mitochondrial DNA. Because of the high rate of evolution, mitochondrial DNA is likely to be an extremely useful molecule to employ for high-resolution analysis of the evolutionary process.

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