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J Mol Evol. 1996 Nov;43(5):438-46.

The complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the donkey and mtDNA comparisons among four closely related mammalian species-pairs.

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  • 1Division of Evolutionary Molecular Systematics, University of Lund, Sölvegatan 29, S-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


The nucleotide sequence of the complete mitochondrial genome of the donkey, Equus asinus, was determined. The length of the molecule is 16,670 bp. The length, however, is not absolute due to pronounced heteroplasmy caused by variable numbers of two types of repetitive motifs in the control region. The sequence of the repeats is (a) 5'-CACACCCA and (b) 5'-TGCGCGCA, respectively. The order of (a) and (b) can be expressed as {n[2(a)+(b)]+m(a)}. In 32 different clones analyzed the number of n and m ranged from 0 to 9 and 1 to 7. The two rRNA genes, the 13 peptide-coding genes, and the 22 tRNA genes of the donkey and the horse, Equus caballus, were compared in detail. Total nucleotide difference outside the control region was 6.9%. Nucleotide difference between peptide-coding genes ranged from 6.4% to 9.4% with a mean of 8.0%. In the inferred protein sequences of the 13 peptide-coding genes the amino acid difference was 0.2-8.8%, and the mean for the 13 concatenated amino acid sequences was 1.9%. In the 22 tRNA genes, the mean difference was 3.5%, and that in the two rRNA genes was 4.1%. The mtDNA differences between the donkey and the horse suggest that the evolutionary separation of the two species occurred approximately 9 million years ago. Analyses of differences among the mtDNAs of three other species-pairs, harbor seal/grey seal, fin whale/blue whale, and Homo/common chimpanzee, showed that the relative evolutionary rate of individual peptide-coding genes varies among different species-pairs and modes of comparison. The findings show that the superimposition of sequence data of one lineage for resolving and dating evolutionary divergences of other lineages should be performed with caution unless based on comprehensive data.

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