Giardia lamblia, one of the earliest diverging eukaryotes and a major cause of diarrhea world-wide, has unusually short intergenic regions, raising questions concerning its regulation of gene expression. We have approached this issue through examination of the alpha2-tubulin promoter and in particular investigated the function of an AT-rich element surrounding the transcription start site. Its placement and the ability of this sequence to direct transcription initiation in the absence of any other promoter elements is similar to the initiator element in higher eukaryotes. However, the sequence diversity of extremely short (8-10 bp) initiator elements is surprising, as is their ability to independently direct substantial levels of transcription. We also identified a large AT-rich element located between -64 and -29 bp upstream of the transcriptional start site and show using both deletions and site-specific mutations of this region that sequences between -60 and the start of transcription are important for promoter strength; interestingly this AT-rich sequence is not highly conserved among different Giardia promoters. These data suggest that while the overall structure of the core promoter has been conserved throughout eukaryotic evolution, significant variation and flexibility is allowed in element consensus sequences and roles in transcription. In particular, the short and diverse sequences that function in transcription initiation in Giardia suggest the potential for relaxed transcriptional regulation.