We have used semi-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to determine the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) content of yolk platelets isolated from embryos of the brine shrimp, Artemia franciscana, and ultrastructural analysis of yolk platelet formation to determine whether these organelles contain mitochondria as reported previously. Using six different isolation and purification protocols, we found one yolk platelet preparation to be devoid of mtDNA, while four yolk platelet preparations contained mtDNA ranging from 16.4 to 85 pg/10(6) yolk platelets. One preparation contained 600 pg mtDNA per 10(6) yolk platelets. Based on our PCR analyses, the mtDNA component of Artemia yolk platelets represented 0.16-4.5% of the total DNA isolated from the platelets. We calculated that Artemia yolk platelets contain, on average, approximately 1.78 molecules of mtDNA/platelet. Direct analysis of mtDNA in "free" mitochondria isolated from yolk platelet-free preparations of Artemia embryos and newly hatched larvae yielded 0.76-0.80 ng/animal. Based on these values, the mtDNA content of yolk platelets was approximately 0.2% of total mtDNA in Artemia embryos. Microscopic analysis of yolk platelet formation during oogenesis in Artemia failed to show the inclusion of mitochondria during the assemblage of yolk platelets. The "mitochondria-like" structures that appear in yolk platelets during their utilization lack the well defined inner and outer membranes characteristic of mitochondria making it unlikely that the yolk platelet inclusions are mitochondria. Our results from PCR technology and ultrastructure analysis demonstrate that mtDNA in yolk platelets of Artemia franciscana embryos is a minor component of the total mtDNA in the embryo, and they fail to support the notion that yolk platelets in Artemia are a major source of immature mitochondria for development.