Evaluating the suitability of current mitochondrial DNA interpretation guidelines for multigenerational whole mitochondrial genome comparisons

Jasmine R. Connell; Miles C. Benton; Rodney A. Lea; Heidi G. Sutherland; Larisa M. Haupt; Kirsty M. Wright; Lyn R. Griffiths


Sanger sequencing of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region was previously the only method available for forensic casework involving degraded samples from skeletal remains. The introduction of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) has transformed genetic data generation and human identification using mtDNA. Whole mitochondrial genome (mtGenome) analysis is now being introduced into forensic laboratories around the world to analyze historical remains. Research into large pedigrees using the mtGenome is critical to evaluate currently available interpretation guidelines for mtDNA analysis, which were developed for comparisons using the control region. This study included mtGenomes from 225 individuals from the last four generations of the Norfolk Island (NI) genetic isolate pedigree consisting of 49 distinct maternal lineages. The data from these individuals were arranged into 2339 maternally related pairs separated by up to 18 meioses. Our results show that 97.3% of maternally related pairs were concordant at all nucleotide positions, resulting in the correct interpretation of "Cannot Exclude"; 2.7% of pairs produced an "Inconclusive" result, and there were no instances of false exclusion. While these results indicate that existing guidelines are suitable for multigenerational whole mtGenome analysis, we recommend caution be taken when classifying heteroplasmic changes as differences for human identification. Our data showed the classification of heteroplasmic changes as differences increases the prevalence of inconclusive identification by 6%, with false exclusions observed in 0.34% of pairs examined. Further studies of multigenerational pedigrees, however, are needed to validate mtGenome interpretation guidelines for historical case work to more fully utilize emerging advancements.