Inheritance and recombination of mitochondrial genomes in plants, fungi and animals


Author for correspondence: Camille M. Barr Tel +1 434 982 5218 Fax: +1 434 982 5626 Email:


It is generally assumed that mitochondrial genomes are uniparentally transmitted, homoplasmic and nonrecombining. However, these assumptions draw largely from early studies on animal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). In this review, we show that plants, animals and fungi are all characterized by episodes of biparental inheritance, recombination among genetically distinct partners, and selfish elements within the mitochondrial genome, but that the extent of these phenomena may vary substantially across taxa. We argue that occasional biparental mitochondrial transmission may allow organisms to achieve the best of both worlds by facilitating mutational clearance but continuing to restrict the spread of selfish genetic elements. We also show that methodological biases and disproportionately allocated study effort are likely to have influenced current estimates of the extent of biparental inheritance, heteroplasmy and recombination in mitochondrial genomes from different taxa. Despite these complications, there do seem to be discernible similarities and differences in transmission dynamics and likelihood of recombination of mtDNA in plant, animal and fungal taxa that should provide an excellent opportunity for comparative investigation of the evolution of mitochondrial genome dynamics.