Comparative genomics and the evolution of human mitochondrial DNA: assessing the effects of selection

Am J Hum Genet. 2004 Feb;74(2):229-38. doi: 10.1086/381505. Epub 2004 Jan 7.


This article provides evidence that selection has been a significant force during the evolution of the human mitochondrial genome. Both gene-by-gene and whole-genome approaches were used here to assess selection in the 560 mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) coding-region sequences that were used previously for reduced-median-network analysis. The results of the present analyses were complex, in that the action of selection was not indicated by all tests, but this is not surprising, in view of the characteristics and limitations of the different analytical methods. Despite these limitations, there is evidence for both gene-specific and lineage-specific variation in selection. Whole-genome sliding-window approaches indicated a lack of selection in large-scale segments of the coding region. In other tests, we analyzed the ratio of nonsynonymous-to-synonymous substitutions in the 13 protein-encoding mtDNA genes. The most straightforward interpretation of those results is that negative selection has acted on the mtDNA during evolution. Single-gene analyses indicated significant departures from neutrality in the CO1, ND4, and ND6 genes, although the data also suggested the possible operation of positive selection on the AT6 gene. Finally, our results and those of other investigators do not support a simple model in which climatic adaptation has been a major force during human mtDNA evolution.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genomics*
  • Humans
  • Selection, Genetic*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial