Mitochondrial fission requires the division of both the inner and outer mitochondrial membranes. Dynamin-related proteins operate in division of the outer membrane of probably all mitochondria, and also that of chloroplasts--organelles that have a bacterial origin like mitochondria. How the inner mitochondrial membrane divides is less well established. Homologues of the major bacterial division protein, FtsZ, are known to reside inside mitochondria of the chromophyte alga Mallomonas, a red alga, and the slime mould Dictyostelium discoideum, where these proteins are likely to act in division of the organelle. Mitochondrial FtsZ is, however, absent from the genomes of higher eukaryotes (animals, fungi, and plants), even though FtsZs are known to be essential for the division of probably all chloroplasts. To begin to understand why higher eukaryotes have lost mitochondrial FtsZ, we have sampled various diverse protists to determine which groups have retained the gene. Database searches and degenerate PCR uncovered genes for likely mitochondrial FtsZs from the glaucocystophyte Cyanophora paradoxa, the oomycete Phytophthora infestans, two haptophyte algae, and two diatoms--one being Thalassiosira pseudonana, the draft genome of which is now available. From Thalassiosira we also identified two chloroplast FtsZs, one of which appears to be undergoing a C-terminal shortening that may be common to many organellar FtsZs. Our data indicate that many protists still employ the FtsZ-based ancestral mitochondrial division mechanism, and that mitochondrial FtsZ has been lost numerous times in the evolution of eukaryotes.