mtDNA variation in the South African Kung and Khwe-and their genetic relationships to other African populations

Am J Hum Genet. 2000 Apr;66(4):1362-83. doi: 10.1086/302848. Epub 2000 Mar 28.


The mtDNA variation of 74 Khoisan-speaking individuals (Kung and Khwe) from Schmidtsdrift, in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, was examined by high-resolution RFLP analysis and control region (CR) sequencing. The resulting data were combined with published RFLP haplotype and CR sequence data from sub-Saharan African populations and then were subjected to phylogenetic analysis to deduce the evolutionary relationships among them. More than 77% of the Kung and Khwe mtDNA samples were found to belong to the major mtDNA lineage, macrohaplogroup L* (defined by a HpaI site at nucleotide position 3592), which is prevalent in sub-Saharan African populations. Additional sets of RFLPs subdivided macrohaplogroup L* into two extended haplogroups-L1 and L2-both of which appeared in the Kung and Khwe. Besides revealing the significant substructure of macrohaplogroup L* in African populations, these data showed that the Biaka Pygmies have one of the most ancient RFLP sublineages observed in African mtDNA and, thus, that they could represent one of the oldest human populations. In addition, the Kung exhibited a set of related haplotypes that were positioned closest to the root of the human mtDNA phylogeny, suggesting that they, too, represent one of the most ancient African populations. Comparison of Kung and Khwe CR sequences with those from other African populations confirmed the genetic association of the Kung with other Khoisan-speaking peoples, whereas the Khwe were more closely linked to non-Khoisan-speaking (Bantu) populations. Finally, the overall sequence divergence of 214 African RFLP haplotypes defined in both this and an earlier study was 0.364%, giving an estimated age, for all African mtDNAs, of 125,500-165,500 years before the present, a date that is concordant with all previous estimates derived from mtDNA and other genetic data, for the time of origin of modern humans in Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Black People / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Haplotypes / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid / genetics
  • South Africa
  • Time Factors


  • DNA, Mitochondrial