Mitochondrial Portraits of Human Populations Using Median Networks

H. J. Bandelt, P. Forster, B. C. Sykes, M. B. Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

912 Citations (Scopus)


Analysis of variation in the hypervariable region of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has emerged as an important tool for studying human evolution and migration. However, attempts to reconstruct optimal intraspecific mtDNA phylogenies frequently fail because parallel mutation events partly obscure the true evolutionary pathways. This makes it inadvisable to present a single phylogenetic tree at the expense of neglecting equally acceptable ones. As an alternative, we propose a novel network approach for portraying mtDNA relationships. For small sample sizes (< ~50), an unmodified median network contains all most parsimonious trees, displays graphically the full information content of the sequence data, and can easily be generated by hand. For larger sample sizes, we reduce the complexity of the network by identifying parallelisms. This reduction procedure is guided by a compatibility argument and an additional source of phylogenetic information: the frequencies of the mitochondrial haplotypes. As a spin-off, our approach can also assist in identifying sequencing errors, which manifest themselves in implausible network substructures. We illustrate the advantages of our approach with several examples from existing data sets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)743-753
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1995
Externally publishedYes


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