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African haplogroup L mtDNA sequences show violations of clock-like evolution

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Joanna Elson, Emeritus Professor Doug Turnbull


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A set of 96 complete mtDNA sequences that belong to the three major African haplogroups (L1, L2, and L3) was analyzed to determine if mtDNA has evolved as a molecular clock. Likelihood ratio tests (LRTs) were carried out with each of the haplogroups and with combined haplogroup sequence sets. Evolution has not been clock-like, neither for the coding region nor for the control region, in combined sets of African haplogroup L mtDNA sequences. In tests of individual haplogroups, L2 mtDNAs showed violations of a molecular clock under all conditions and in both the control and coding regions. In contrast, haplogroup L1 and L3 sequences, both for the coding and control regions, show clock-like evolution. In clock tests of individual L2 subclades, the L2a sequences showed a marked violation of clock-like evolution within the coding region. In addition, the L2a and L2c branch lengths of both the coding and control regions were shorter relative to those of the L2b and L2d sequences, a result that indicates lower levels of sequence divergence. Reduced median network analyses of the L2a sequences indicated the occurrence of marked homoplasy at multiple sites in the control region. After exclusion of the L2a and L2c sequences, African mtDNA coding region evolution has not significantly departed from a molecular clock, despite the results of neutrality tests that indicate the mitochondrial coding region has evolved under nonneutral conditions. In contrast, control region evolution is clock-like only at the haplogroup level, and it thus appears to have evolved essentially independently from the coding region. The results of the clock tests, the network analyses, and the branch length comparisons all caution against the use of simple mtDNA clocks.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Howell N, Elson JL, Turnbull DM, Herrnstadt C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Molecular Biology and Evolution

Year: 2004

Volume: 21

Issue: 10

Pages: 1843-1854

Print publication date: 01/10/2004

ISSN (print): 0737-4038

ISSN (electronic): 1537-1719

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msh184

PubMed id: 15190127


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