The first complete mitochondrial genome sequence of an extinct species is reported.

The ratites make up a group of flightless birds unique to the Southern Hemisphere that include the kiwi, ostrich, and the now extinct New Zealand moa and Madagascan elephant-bird. It is thought that the evolution of new species of ratite was driven by plate tectonics, the geological forces that caused the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana to break-up into the present-day Southern continents.

DNA evidence that ratite speciation matches the geological separation of the Southern continents comes from research reported in 8 February Nature by Alan Cooper of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK, and his colleagues (Nature 2001, 409:704-707).

According to Cooper, they focused on the mitochondrial genome not only because it is evolutionarily useful – detailed mitochondrial maps of gene arrangements and sequence from other birds are available – but also because...

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