Background: Current models propose that mitochondrial DNA macrohaplogroups M and N evolved from haplogroup L3 soon after modern humans left Africa. Increasingly, however, analysis of isolated populations is filling in the details of, and in some cases challenging, aspects of this general model.
Results: Here, we present the first comprehensive study of three such isolated populations from Madagascar: the Mikea hunter-gatherers, the neighbouring Vezo fishermen, and the Merina central highlanders (n = 266). Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences reveal several unresolved lineages, and a new, deep branch of the out-of-Africa founder clade M has been identified. This new haplogroup, M23, has a limited global distribution, and is restricted to Madagascar and a limited range of African and Southwest Asian groups.
Conclusions: The geographic distribution, phylogenetic placement and molecular age of M23 suggest that the colonization of Madagascar was more complex than previously thought.