Difference Between Mitochondrial DNA and Nuclear DNA


Primary Difference

To compare these two kinds of DNAs first we need to understand what a DNA is. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, it a very complex molecule that has all the information to build and maintain a living thing or an organism. Every organism has DNAs. It is basically the hereditary material in all organisms which is inherited from the parents of that organism. Almost every cell in a human beings body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus which is called nuclear DNA, but a small amount of DNA is also be found in the mitochondria which is called mitochondrial DNA. Nuclear DNA is found in every cell of the person’s body. A nuclear contains 46 chromosomes which are inherited by both, the mother and father. On the other hand the mitochondrial DNA is found in the mitochondria of the cell only and it consists of only one chromosome which is only inherited by the mother. The chromosomes of the nuclear DNA are longer as compared to the chromosomes of the mitochondrial DNA which are shorter. Nuclear DNA has most of the genetic information a person’s body needs while mitochondrial DNA contains only information needed for the mitochondria to work and also depends on the nuclear DNA for some assistance. The shape of the nuclear DNA is linear while the mitochondrial DNA are circular in shape. Both these DNAs are double stranded. The basic genetic outlook of a human being is carried out by the nuclear DNA while the metabolic activities are carried out by the mitochondrial DNA.

Comparison Chart

Mitochondrial DNANuclear DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is found only in the mitochondria of the cell.Nuclear DNA is found inside the nucleus of the cell
37 genes20,000 to 25,000 genes

Definition of Nuclear DNA

Nuclear DNA is located in the nucleus of our cells and it makes up 99.9% of the total DNA in our body. These DNAs are associated with the hereditary function of our body. They are linear in shape. Inside the cells, the Nuclear DNA is made up of tiny structures which are called chromosomes. Human beings have forty six chromosomes in one cell which are arranged in pairs. These chromosomes are inherited from the mother and father both, twenty three of these come from your mother and twenty three from your father. These chromosomes contain between 20,000-25,000 genes. Nuclear DNA and all the genes inside it are responsible for the structure, built and features of a particular human being as well responsible for the nature and traits of that person. Different people have different features and characteristics which are inherits by the parents. Thus also leads to inherit any genetic disorders or illnesses from the parents if they have any. Nuclear DNA is composed of the adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine which are the main nucleotides and it consists of a double helix chain which is separated during division of various enzymes.


Definition of Mitochondrial DNA

The mitochondrial DNA is a special circular type of DNA that is only found within the mitochondria only and it makes up only 0.1% of the total DNA in our bodies. Mitochondrial DNA contains only thirty seven genes, all of which are important for normal mitochondrial function of which thirteen of these genes provide instructions for making enzymes while the remaining genes provide instructions for making molecules which help put proteins together. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from your mother because the fathers mitochondrial DNA is destroyed during fertilization. Mitochondrial DNA is circular in shape and has only one chromosome. Humans contain between hundreds to thousands copies of mitochondrial DNA per cell. Also all mitochondrial diseases in a human being is associated from the maternal side through inheritance. The mitochondrial DNA multiplies separately from the nuclear DNA.

Differences in a Nutshell

  1. Nuclear DNA is found inside the nucleus of the cell while mitochondrial DNA is found only in the mitochondria of the cell.
  2. Nuclear DNA is linear in shape while mitochondrial DNA is circular in shape.
  3. Nuclear DNA is longer as compared to the mitochondrial DNA which is shorter.
  4. Nuclear DNA is inherited from the mother and father both whereas on the other hand the mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother only.
  5. Nuclear DNA consists of forty six chromosomes while mitochondrial DNA consists of only one chromosome.
  6. The nuclear DNA contains 20,000 to 25,000 genes while mitochondrial DNA contains only thirty seven genes.
  7. The chromosomes in nuclear DNA are responsible genetic make-up of a human being while the chromosome of the mitochondrial DNA is responsible for the metabolic activities.


Science and Biology can be subjects which become difficult for people who do not know much about them. When people, who are studying it, get confused about the same kind of terms it can get very irritating. This article has laid out the main differences between the two types of DNA to give people a clearer understanding of them.

Janet White

Janet White is a writer and blogger for Difference Wiki since 2015. She has a master's degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University. Apart from work, she enjoys exercising, reading, and spending time with her friends and family. Connect with her on Twitter @Janet__White