Mitochondrial DNA diversity of present-day Aboriginal Australians and implications for human evolution in Oceania

J Hum Genet. 2017 Mar;62(3):343-353. doi: 10.1038/jhg.2016.147. Epub 2016 Dec 1.


Aboriginal Australians are one of the more poorly studied populations from the standpoint of human evolution and genetic diversity. Thus, to investigate their genetic diversity, the possible date of their ancestors' arrival and their relationships with neighboring populations, we analyzed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) diversity in a large sample of Aboriginal Australians. Selected mtDNA single-nucleotide polymorphisms and the hypervariable segment haplotypes were analyzed in 594 Aboriginal Australians drawn from locations across the continent, chiefly from regions not previously sampled. Most (~78%) samples could be assigned to mtDNA haplogroups indigenous to Australia. The indigenous haplogroups were all ancient (with estimated ages >40 000 years) and geographically widespread across the continent. The most common haplogroup was P (44%) followed by S (23%) and M42a (9%). There was some geographic structure at the haplotype level. The estimated ages of the indigenous haplogroups range from 39 000 to 55 000 years, dates that fit well with the estimated date of colonization of Australia based on archeological evidence (~47 000 years ago). The distribution of mtDNA haplogroups in Australia and New Guinea supports the hypothesis that the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians entered Sahul through at least two entry points. The mtDNA data give no support to the hypothesis of secondary gene flow into Australia during the Holocene, but instead suggest long-term isolation of the continent.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / history
  • Female
  • Gene Flow
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Haplotypes
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oceania
  • Oceanic Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • Oceanic Ancestry Group / history
  • Paleontology
  • Phylogeny*
  • Phylogeography
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Reproductive Isolation


  • DNA, Mitochondrial