Misconceptions about mitochondria and mammalian fertilization: implications for theories on human evolution

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Nov 26;93(24):13859-63. doi: 10.1073/pnas.93.24.13859.


In vertebrates, inheritance of mitochondria is thought to be predominantly maternal, and mitochondrial DNA analysis has become a standard taxonomic tool. In accordance with the prevailing view of strict maternal inheritance, many sources assert that during fertilization, the sperm tail, with its mitochondria, gets excluded from the embryo. This is incorrect. In the majority of mammals-including humans-the midpiece mitochondria can be identified in the embryo even though their ultimate fate is unknown. The "missing mitochondria" story seems to have survived--and proliferated-unchallenged in a time of contention between hypotheses of human origins, because it supports the "African Eve" model of recent radiation of Homo sapiens out of Africa. We will discuss the infiltration of this mistake into concepts of mitochondrial inheritance and human evolution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Fertilization*
  • Genomic Imprinting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Oocytes / physiology
  • Organelles / physiology
  • Sperm-Ovum Interactions*
  • Spermatozoa / physiology


  • DNA, Mitochondrial