Research News

Calibrating the Mitochondrial Clock

Science  02 Jan 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5347, pp. 28-29
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5347.28

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DNA studies of the remains of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II illustrate troubling questions in forensics and the dating of evolutionary events. The Tsar inherited two different sequences of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from their mother, a condition known as heteroplasmy that was previously considered rare but which new studies show may occur in at least 10% and probably 20% of all humans. This may mean that mtDNA mutates perhaps as much as 20-fold faster than expected, according to two controversial studies. Since evolutionists had assumed that mtDNA mutations occur at a steady rate, these studies cast doubt over the dating of such events as the peopling of Europe. The new results are already prompting changes in DNA forensics procedures.