Theileria parva, an intralymphocytic protozoan parasite of cattle, contains a linear 7.1 kb DNA element with terminal inverted repeat sequences. The molecule is transcribed into low molecular weight RNA, and both DNA strands encode short stretches of unique sequences, usually < 100 nucleotides, which are similar to large (LSU) or small (SSU) ribosomal subunit RNA. Phylogenetically conserved conformational rRNA domains were assembled from the discontinuous rDNA sequences using comparative secondary structure modelling. For example, a minimum of four predicted sequences, two derived from each DNA strand, is required to assemble domain V of LSU rRNA which participates in peptidyl transferase activity. The discontinuities in the identified rRNA domains fall within regions of no known functional significance. Hence, it is likely that the element encodes fragmented rDNA genes and the mature rRNA is unconventional, consisting of several fragments of RNA, primarily held together by intermolecular and intramolecular base pairing. The element also has ORFs for components of the last two mitochondrial electron transport enzyme complexes. The structure of the parasite DNA element, its protein coding capacity and scrambled rDNA gene sequences, are reminiscent of the mitochondrial genome of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. We propose that the 7.1 kb element is equivalent to the mitochondrial DNA of T. parva, although a number of its features are unusual for this family of extrachromosomal DNA molecules.