The mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) from 116 Oriental and Caucasian blood samples were analyzed for their Hinc II restriction endonuclease cleavage patterns using Southern analysis and 32P human mtDNA probes. Seven distinct patterns were found, all of which could be interrelated by single nucleotide changes. The predominant pattern (mtHinc II-2) was found in 97% of the Caucasians and 73% of the Orientals. This mtDNA morph had one more Hinc II site than did the second most common morph (mtHinc II-1), which was found only in 20% of the Orientals. Three additional patterns were in a single Oriental sample, a fourth in a single Caucasian sample, and a fifth in one member of each population. The polymorphic site that differentiated mtHinc II-1 and mtHinc II-2 was cloned and sequenced. A single nucleotide change was found that created an Hinc II site and changed the amino acid sequence of the URF5 gene. Comparison of these sequences with those of other primates  revealed that the Asian mtHinc II-1 and mtHinc II-4 mtDNAs were identical in this region with those of chimpanzees and orangutans. These results suggest that the Asian mtHinc II-1 mtDNA may have been ancestral to other human mtDNAs.