The mitochondrial alternative oxidase (AOX) and the plastid terminal oxidase (PTOX) are two similar members of the membrane-bound diiron carboxylate group of proteins. AOX is a ubiquinol oxidase present in all higher plants, as well as some algae, fungi, and protists. It may serve to dampen reactive oxygen species generation by the respiratory electron transport chain. PTOX is a plastoquinol oxidase in plants and some algae. It is required in carotenoid biosynthesis and may represent the elusive oxidase in chlororespiration. Recently, prokaryotic orthologues of both AOX and PTOX proteins have appeared in sequence databases. These include PTOX orthologues present in four different cyanobacteria as well as an AOX orthologue in an alpha-proteobacterium. We used PCR, RT-PCR and northern analyses to confirm the presence and expression of the PTOX gene in Anabaena variabilis PCC 7120. An extensive phylogeny of newly found prokaryotic and eukaryotic AOX and PTOX proteins supports the idea that AOX and PTOX represent two distinct groups of proteins that diverged prior to the endosymbiotic events that gave rise to the eukaryotic organelles. Using multiple sequence alignment, we identified residues conserved in all AOX and PTOX proteins. We also provide a scheme to readily distinguish PTOX from AOX proteins based upon differences in amino acid sequence in motifs around the conserved iron-binding residues. Given the presence of PTOX in cyanobacteria, we suggest that this acronym now stand for plastoquinol terminal oxidase. Our results have implications for the photosynthetic and respiratory metabolism of these prokaryotes, as well as for the origin and evolution of eukaryotic AOX and PTOX proteins.