Eukaryotic chromosomes end in short nucleotide repeats that are added by the enzyme telomerase. The catalytic subunit of telomerase has been shown to be most closely related in sequence to reverse transcriptases encoded by eukaryotic retrotransposable elements. This raises the question as to whether the telomerase subunit was present in the first eukaryotes or was derived during early eukaryote evolution from the replication machinery of a retrotransposable element. We present the sequence of a putative telomerase catalytic subunit from the diplomonad parasite, Giardia lamblia. The G. lamblia subunit appears to have most of the characteristics of other sequenced telomerases, except that it lacks the conserved telomerase-specific 'T' motif previously identified in other eukaryotic genes. Searching genomic databases with the G. lamblia sequence, we also identified a potential telomerase catalytic subunit from Caenorhabditis elegans. The C. elegans subunit is uncharacteristically short, and lacks several motifs found in all other telomerases. The identification of a G. lamblia telomerase similar to that of most other eukaryotes suggests that telomerase dates back to the earliest extant marker of eukaryotic evolution. The atypical C. elegans telomerase, on the other hand, raises intriguing biochemical questions concerning sub-domains of the telomerase catalytic subunit previously considered indispensable. The enzymatic machinery for telomere formation in C. elegans is likely to differ substantially from that of other eukaryotes.