The mammalian mitochondrial genome encodes for 37 genes which are involved in a broad range of cellular functions. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) molecule is commonly assumed to be inherited through oocyte cytoplasm in a clonal manner, and apparently species-specific mechanisms have evolved to eliminate the contribution of sperm mitochondria after natural fertilization. However, recent evidence for paternal mtDNA inheritance in embryos and offspring questions the general validity of this model, particularly in the context of assisted reproduction and embryo biotechnology. In addition to normal mt DNA haplotype variation, oocytes and spermatozoa show remarkable differences in mtDNA content and may be affected by inherited or acquired mtDNA aberrations. All these parameters have been correlated with gamete quality and reproductive success rates. Nuclear transfer (NT) technology provides experimental models for studying interactions between nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. Recent studies demonstrated (i) a significant effect of mtDNA haplotype or other maternal cytoplasmic factors on the efficiency of NT; (ii) phenotypic differences between transmitochondrial clones pointing to functionally relevant nuclear–cytoplasmic interactions; and (iii) neutral or non-neutral selection of mtDNA haplotypes in heteroplasmic conditions. Mitochondria form a dynamic reticulum, enabling complementation of mitochondrial components and possibly mixing of different mtDNA populations in heteroplasmic individuals. Future directions of research on mtDNA in the context of reproductive biotechnology range from the elimination of adverse effects of artificial heteroplasmy, e.g. created by ooplasm transfer, to engineering of optimized constellations of nuclear and cytoplasmic genes for the production of superior livestock.