Dinoflagellate mitochondrial genomes: stretching the rules of molecular biology

Bioessays. 2009 Feb;31(2):237-45. doi: 10.1002/bies.200800164.


Mitochondrial genomes represent relict bacterial genomes derived from a progenitor alpha-proteobacterium that gave rise to all mitochondria through an ancient endosymbiosis. Evolution has massively reduced these genomes, yet despite relative simplicity their organization and expression has developed considerable novelty throughout eukaryotic evolution. Few organisms have reengineered their mitochondrial genomes as thoroughly as the protist lineage of dinoflagellates. Recent work reveals dinoflagellate mitochondrial genomes as likely the most gene-impoverished of any free-living eukaryote, encoding only two to three proteins. The organization and expression of these genomes, however, is far from the simplicity their gene content would suggest. Gene duplication, fragmentation, and scrambling have resulted in an inflated and complex genome organization. Extensive RNA editing then recodes gene transcripts, and trans-splicing is required to assemble full-length transcripts for at least one fragmented gene. Even after these processes, messenger RNAs (mRNAs) lack canonical start codons and most transcripts have abandoned stop codons altogether.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dinoflagellida / genetics*
  • Genome, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Molecular Biology*
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • RNA Editing / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics


  • RNA, Ribosomal