African populations and the evolution of human mitochondrial DNA

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  27 Sep 1991:
Vol. 253, Issue 5027, pp. 1503-1507
DOI: 10.1126/science.1840702


The proposal that all mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types in contemporary humans stem from a common ancestor present in an African population some 200,000 years ago has attracted much attention. To study this proposal further, two hypervariable segments of mtDNA were sequenced from 189 people of diverse geographic origin, including 121 native Africans. Geographic specificity was observed in that identical mtDNA types are shared within but not between populations. A tree relating these mtDNA sequences to one another and to a chimpanzee sequence has many deep branches leading exclusively to African mtDNAs. An African origin for human mtDNA is supported by two statistical tests. With the use of the chimpanzee and human sequences to calibrate the rate of mtDNA evolution, the age of the common human mtDNA ancestor is placed between 166,000 and 249,000 years. These results thus support and extend the African origin hypothesis of human mtDNA evolution.

Stay Connected to Science