Pairwise comparisons of mitochondrial DNA sequences in subdivided populations and implications for early human evolution.
Marjoram P., Donnelly P.
We consider the effect on the distribution of pairwise differences between mitochondrial DNA sequences of the incorporation into the underlying population genetics model of two particular effects that seem realistic for human populations. The first is that the population size was roughly constant before growing to its current level. The second is that the population is geographically subdivided rather than panmictic. In each case these features tend to encourage multimodal distributions of pairwise differences, in contrast to existing, unimodal datasets. We argue that population genetics models currently used to analyze such data may thus fail to reflect important features of human mitochondrial DNA evolution. These may include selection on the mitochondrial genome, more realistic mutation mechanisms, or special population or migration dynamics. Particularly in view of the variability inherent in the single available human mitochondrial genealogy, it is argued that until these effects are better understood, inferences from such data should be rather cautious.