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A mitochondrial Hsp70 orthologue in Vairimorpha necatrix: molecular evidence that microsporidia once contained mitochondria

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Robert HirtORCiD, Emeritus Professor T. Martin Embley FMedSci FRSORCiD


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Microsporidia are small (1-20 micron) obligate intracellular parasites of a variety of eukaryotes, and they are serious opportunistic pathogens of immunocompromised patients [1]. Microsporidia are often assigned to the first branch in gene trees of eukaryotes [2,3], and are reported to lack mitochondria [2,4]. Like diplomonads and trichomonads, microsporidia are hypothesised to have diverged from the main eukaryotic stock prior to the event that led to the mitochondrion endosymbiosis [2,4]. They have thus assumed importance as putative relics of premitochondrion eukaryote evolution. Recent data have now revealed that diplomonads and trichomonads contain genes that probably originated from the mitochondrion endosymbiont [5-9], leaving microsporidia as chief candidates for an extant primitively amitochondriate eukaryote group. We have now identified a gene in the microsporidium Vairimorpha necatrix that appears to be orthologous to the eukaryotic (symbiont-derived) Hsp70 gene, the protein product of which normally functions in mitochondria. The simplest interpretation of our data is that microporidia have lost mitochondria while retaining genetic evidence of their past presence. This strongly suggests that microsporidia are not primitively amitochondriate and makes feasible an evolutionary scenario whereby all extant eukaryotes share a common ancestor which contained mitochondria.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Embley TM; Hirt RP; Healy B; Vossbrinck CR; Canning EU

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Current Biology

Year: 1997

Volume: 7

Issue: 12

Pages: 995-998

Print publication date: 01/12/1997

ISSN (print): 0960-9822

ISSN (electronic): 1879-0445

Publisher: Cell Press


DOI: 10.1016/S0960-9822(06)00420-9


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