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Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 1997 Mar; 61(1): 1–16.
PMCID: PMC232597

Extrachromosomal DNA in the Apicomplexa.


Malaria and related apicomplexan parasites have two highly conserved organellar genomes: one is of plastid (pl) origin, and the other is mitochondrial (mt). The organization of both organellar DNA molecules from the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum has been determined, and they have been shown to be tightly packed with genes. The 35-kb circular DNA is the smallest known vestigial plastid genome and is presumed to be functional. All but two of its recognized genes are involved with genetic expression: one of the two encodes a member of the clp family of molecular chaperones, and the other encodes a conserved protein of unknown function found both in algal plastids and in eubacterial genomes. The possible evolutionary source and intracellular location of the plDNA are discussed. The 6-kb tandemly repeated mt genome is the smallest known and codes for only three proteins (cytochrome b and two subunits of cytochrome oxidase) as well as two bizarrely fragmented rRNAs. The organization of the mt genome differs somewhat among genera. The mtDNA sequence provides information not otherwise available about the structure of apicomplexan cytochrome b as well as the unusually fragmented rRNAs. The malarial mtDNA has a phage-like replication mechanism and undergoes extensive recombination like the mtDNA of some other lower eukaryotes.

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