Rickettsia-like mitochondrial motility in Drosophila spermiogenesis

Evol Dev. Jul-Aug 2003;5(4):379-85. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-142x.2003.03045.x.


Although it is generally accepted that mitochondria and chloroplasts are descended in evolution from bacteria, the potential contributions of their endosymbiont ancestors to specialized cellular pathways in development remain largely unexplored. Here we show that a motile behavior of mitochondria in Drosophila spermiogenesis is strikingly similar to the actin-based "comet tail" motility of several bacteria. A combination of electron and fluorescence microscopy demonstrates major reorganization and movement of mitochondria ahead of, and in close association with, dense conical arrays of actin filaments in the sperm individualization complex, which mediates the resolution of male germline syncytia into separate gametes. Because of several other parallels between the movement of the individualization complex and the motility behavior of some rickettsiae, the bacterial family from which mitochondria are most likely descended, this motility phenomenon is a strong candidate for a true vestige of endosymbiont behavior in contemporary mitochondria. The potential conservation of an ancient endosymbiont motility mechanism within a highly conserved feature of gametogenesis, the resolution of germline syncytia, may indicate a formative role for the endosymbiotic ancestor of mitochondria in the evolution of this developmental pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Rickettsia / cytology*
  • Rickettsia / genetics
  • Rickettsia / metabolism
  • Sperm Motility*
  • Spermatogenesis / physiology*
  • Testis / ultrastructure


  • Actins