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A mitochondrial remnant in the microsporidian Trachipleistophora hominis

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


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Microsporidia are obligate intracellular parasites of several eukaryotes. They have a highly complex and unique infection apparatus but otherwise appear structurally simple. Microsporidia are thought to lack typical eukaryotic organelles, such as mitochondria and peroxisomes. This has been interpreted as support for the hypothesis that these peculiar eukaryotes diverged before the mitochondrial endosymbiosis, which would make them one of the earliest offshoots in eukaryotic evolution. But microsporidial nuclear genes that encode orthologues of typical mitochondrial heatshock Hsp70 proteins have been detected, which provides evidence for secondary loss of the organelle or endosymbiont. In addition, gene trees and more sophisticated phylogenetic analyses have recovered microsporidia as the relatives of fungi, rather than as basal eukaryotes. Here we show that a highly specific antibody raised against a Trachipleistophora hominis Hsp70 protein detects the presence, under light and electron microscopy, of numerous tiny ( approximately 50 x 90 nm) organelles with double membranes in this human microsporidial parasite. The finding of relictual mitochondria in microsporidia provides further evidence of the reluctance of eukaryotes to lose the mitochondrial organelle, even when its canonical function of aerobic respiration has been apparently lost.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Embley TM; Hirt RP; Williams BA; Lucocq JM

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2002

Volume: 418

Issue: 6900

Pages: 865-869

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/nature00949


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