The DNA found in mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles of cells, is often analyzed to trace evolutionary pathways. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has a high "substitution" or mutation rate, compared with other sites in our genome. mtDNA is transmitted only from mother to child, and can be inherited intact over thousands of generations. Mutations in the mtDNA sequence can be used to reconstruct the maternal lineage of populations.
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DNA found in the mitochondrion of a cell differs in structure and is separate from the DNA found in the cell nucleus. Mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, exists as a circular loop of double-stranded DNA rather than the linear form found in nuclear DNA. However,