Mitochondrial remnant organelles of Giardia function in iron-sulphur protein maturation

Nature. 2003 Nov 13;426(6963):172-6. doi: 10.1038/nature01945.


Giardia intestinalis (syn. lamblia) is one of the most widespread intestinal protozoan pathogens worldwide, causing hundreds of thousands of cases of diarrhoea each year. Giardia is a member of the diplomonads, often described as an ancient protist group whose primitive nature is suggested by the lack of typical eukaryotic organelles (for example, mitochondria, peroxisomes), the presence of a poorly developed endomembrane system and by their early branching in a number of gene phylogenies. The discovery of nuclear genes of putative mitochondrial ancestry in Giardia and the recent identification of mitochondrial remnant organelles in amitochondrial protists such as Entamoeba histolytica and Trachipleistophora hominis suggest that the eukaryotic amitochondrial state is not a primitive condition but is rather the result of reductive evolution. Using an in vitro protein reconstitution assay and specific antibodies against IscS and IscU--two mitochondrial marker proteins involved in iron-sulphur cluster biosynthesis--here we demonstrate that Giardia contains mitochondrial remnant organelles (mitosomes) bounded by double membranes that function in iron-sulphur protein maturation. Our results indicate that Giardia is not primitively amitochondrial and that it has retained a functional organelle derived from the original mitochondrial endosymbiont.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Genes, Protozoan / genetics
  • Giardia / cytology*
  • Giardia / genetics
  • Giardia / metabolism*
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Transport
  • Protozoan Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism
  • Symbiosis


  • Iron-Sulfur Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AY040612