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Biol Lett. Jun 23, 2009; 5(3): 413–416.
Published online Mar 4, 2009. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2008.0662
PMCID: PMC2679905
Mitochondrial whims: metabolic rate, longevity and the rate of molecular evolution
Nicolas Galtier,1* Richard W. Jobson,1 Benoît Nabholz,1 Sylvain Glémin,1 and Pierre U. Blier2
1Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, CNRS UMR 5554, Université Montpellier 2, Place E. Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier, France
2Département de Biologie, Université du Québec à Rimouski, 300 allée des ursulines, Rimouski, Québec, Canada G5L 3A1
*Author for correspondence (galtier/at/
Received December 12, 2008; Accepted January 21, 2009.
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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