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Biol Lett. 2009 June 23; 5(3): 413–416.
Published online 2009 March 4. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2008.0662
PMCID: PMC2679905

Mitochondrial whims: metabolic rate, longevity and the rate of molecular evolution


The evolutionary rate of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is highly variable across lineages in animals, and particularly in mammals. This variation has been interpreted as reflecting variations in metabolic rate: mitochondrial respiratory activity would tend to generate mutagenic agents, thus increasing the mutation rate. Here we review recent evidence suggesting that a direct, mechanical effect of species metabolic rate on mtDNA evolutionary rate is unlikely. We suggest that natural selection could act to reduce the (somatic) mtDNA mutation rate in long-lived species, in agreement with the mitochondrial theory of ageing.

Keywords: ageing, mutation, substitution, soma, antagonistic pleiotropy, reactive oxygen species

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