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J Bioenerg Biomembr. 1994 Jun;26(3):251-9.

Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park.


For the past seven years or so, much discussion and controversy in the field of human evolution has revolved around the application and interpretation of studies of human mitochondrial DNA variation, particularly the hypothesis that all mtDNA types in contemporary populations can be traced back to a single African ancestor who lived about 200,000 years ago. In this review I describe the evidence that led to this hypothesis, subsequent work, and where things stand now, particularly with respect to recent criticisms concerning the adequacy of phylogenetic analyses of the mtDNA data. I also describe a new method of analyzing mtDNA data that suggests that all human populations underwent a dramatic expansion some 40,000 years ago, possibly in association with revolutionary advances in human behavior, as well as an important implication of population expansions for mtDNA disease studies.

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