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A history of you, me, and humanity: mitochondrial DNA in anthropological research

Laboratory of Genetic Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37325, USA

Within genetic anthropology, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has garnered a prominent if not enduring place within the anthropological toolkit. MtDNA has provided new and innovative perspectives on the emergence and dispersal of our species, interactions with extinct human species, and illuminated relationships between human groups. In this paper, I provide a brief overview of the major findings ascertained from mtDNA about human origins, human dispersal across the globe, interactions with other hominin species, and the more recent uses of mtDNA in direct to consumer ancestry tests. Relative to nuclear DNA, mtDNA is a small section of the genome and due to its inheritance pattern provides a limited resolution of population history and an individual’s genetic ancestry. Consequently, some scholars dismiss mtDNA as insignificant due to the limited inferences that may be made using the locus. Regardless, mtDNA provides some useful insights to understanding how social, cultural, and environmental factors have shaped patterns of genetic variability. Furthermore, with regard to the experiences of historically marginalized groups, in particular those of African descent throughout the Americas, mtDNA has the potential to fill gaps in knowledge that would otherwise remain unknown. Within anthropological sciences, the value of this locus for understanding human experience is maximized when contextualized with complementary lines of evidence.
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Copyright Info: © 2016, Jada Benn Torres, licensee AIMS Press. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licese (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

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