Nuclear DNA-encoded fragments of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) confound analysis of selection of mtDNA mutations in human primordial germ cells.


The resilience of the mitochondrial genome to a high mutational pressure depends, in part, on purifying selection against detrimental mutations in the germline. It is crucial to understand the mechanisms of this process. Recently, Floros et al. concluded that much of the purifying selection takes place during the proliferation of primordial germ cells (PGCs) because, according to their analysis, the synonymity of mutations in late PGCs was seemingly increased compared to those in early PGCs. We re-analyzed the Floros et al. mutational data and discovered a high proportion of sequence variants that are not true mutations, but originate from NUMTs, the latter of which are segments of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) inserted into nuclear DNA, up to millions of years ago. This is a well-known artifact in mtDNA mutational analysis. Removal of these artifacts from the Floros et al. dataset abolishes the reported effect of purifying selection in PGCs. We therefore conclude that the mechanism of germline selection of mtDNA mutations remains open for debate, and more research is needed to fully elucidate the timing and nature of this process.

Competing Interest Statement

The authors have declared no competing interest.

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