Proboscidean mitogenomics: chronology and mode of elephant evolution using mastodon as outgroup

PLoS Biol. 2007 Aug;5(8):e207. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0050207.


We have sequenced the complete mitochondrial genome of the extinct American mastodon (Mammut americanum) from an Alaskan fossil that is between 50,000 and 130,000 y old, extending the age range of genomic analyses by almost a complete glacial cycle. The sequence we obtained is substantially different from previously reported partial mastodon mitochondrial DNA sequences. By comparing those partial sequences to other proboscidean sequences, we conclude that we have obtained the first sequence of mastodon DNA ever reported. Using the sequence of the mastodon, which diverged 24-28 million years ago (mya) from the Elephantidae lineage, as an outgroup, we infer that the ancestors of African elephants diverged from the lineage leading to mammoths and Asian elephants approximately 7.6 mya and that mammoths and Asian elephants diverged approximately 6.7 mya. We also conclude that the nuclear genomes of the African savannah and forest elephants diverged approximately 4.0 mya, supporting the view that these two groups represent different species. Finally, we found the mitochondrial mutation rate of proboscideans to be roughly half of the rate in primates during at least the last 24 million years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Evolution*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / analysis*
  • Elephants / classification
  • Elephants / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Fossils*
  • Genome, Mitochondrial*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Mitochondrial

Associated data

  • GENBANK/EF632344