Evolution of the mitochondrial genetic system: an overview.
Saccone C, Gissi C, Lanave C, Larizza A, Pesole G, Reyes A
Gene (2000)
Category: mitochondria-evolution ¤ Added: Aug 03, 2004 ¤ Rating: ◊◊
Mitochondria, semi-autonomous organelles possessing their own genetic system, are commonly accepted to descend from free-living eubacteria, namely hydrogen-producing alpha-proteobacteria. The progressive loss of genes from the primitive eubacterium to the nucleus of the eukaryotic cell is strongly justified by the Muller rachet principle, which postulates that asexual genomes, like mitochondrial ones, accumulate deleterious and sublethal mutations faster than sexual genomes, like the nucleus. According to this principle, the mitochondrial genome would be doomed to death; instead, we observe that the mitochondrial genome has a variable size and structure in the different organisms, though it contains more or less the same set of genes. This is an example of genetic conservation versus structural diversity. From an evolutionary point of view the genetic system of organelles is clearly under strong selective pressure and for its survival it needs to utilize strategies to slow down or halt the ratchet. Anyway, the mitochondrial genome changes with time, and the rate of evolution is different for both diverse regions of the mtDNA and between lineages, as demonstrated in the case of mammalian mt genomes. We report here our data on the evolution of the mitochondrial DNA in mammals which demonstrate the suitability of mtDNA as a molecular tool for evolutionary analyses.