mt-DNA, or mitochondrial DNA, is DNA inherited solely from the mother. It is found in the organelle mitochondria, in eukaryotic cells. These are cells that convert energy from food into energy that can be used, such as ATP.
Although inherited from the female line, in some species such as mussels, fruit flies and periodical cicadas, mt-DNA is inherited from the male line.
It was first discovered by Margit M.K Nass and Sylvan Nass by electron microscopy in the 1960s.
Haplogroups are groups of people sharing the same variation in mt-DNA. It was used to trace early human origins back to Africa. The haplogroups run from A-Z. For example J stands for Jasmine, and she came from Eurasia. At the root of the haplogroups there is one person, called matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) for all living humans, and is named Mitochondrial Eve.
When mt-DNA mutates, it can lead to diseases (in humans) such as Kearnes-Sayre Syndrome (KSS), which causes a person to lose full function of heart, eye, and muscle movements.
So, why am I even blogging about this? This is a history blog, not a biology blog. Well, mt- DNA can be used to identify bodies, such as Richard III, when he was found in a car park in Leicester. The historian Dr John Ashdown-Hill traced the lineage of Anne of York, Richard’s sister, so she would carry the same mt-DNA through the female line . It was traced to a man called Michael Ibsen. Mr Ibsen provided DNA which was matched to Richard III’s mt-DNA. This proved that the body found in Leicester was, in fact, Richard III, along with the fact that records show he was buried in a Greyfriars church.
This is why a knowledge of mt-DNA is pretty important to someone who wishes to identify someone.