Supplement for Biologists: The Mitochondrial DNA Mutation Rate

Cracked Science

Warning: Not for the general public.

I make an exception to my usual rule of writing to the curious lay public for this supplement. I recently wrote about the use of mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA) in identifying bodies more than a decade old. While researching the topic, I found a lot of seemingly contradictory information about how often the mtDNA genome mutates. To clear the air, I asked a former colleague of mine, Dr. Michael Coble, who provided me with a very detailed explanation of why there seemed to be so much confusion in the literature.

If this topic interests you, read on.

I first asked Dr. Coble if the mutation rate of mtDNA was indeed higher than that of nuclear DNA, which codes for most of the proteins in our bodies.

“Some early papers by Brown et al. (1979) PNAS 76:1967-1971 and Horai et al. (1995) PNAS 92:…

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