Study Discovers Single-Celled Gut Protists Flourishing Without Mitochondria


Schematic evolutionary tree of the five microbial species included in the study. From left to right: Trimastix marina, Paratrimastix pyriformis, Blattamonas nauphoetae, Streblomastix strix, and Monocercomonoides exilis.

In a groundbreaking discovery by Lukáš Novák and Vladimír Hampl of Charles University, published in the journal PLOS Genetics, Oxymonadida flagellates, a group of single-celled protists that live inside the guts of termites and other animals including Blattamonas nauphoetae and Monocercomonoides exilis, challenge the conventional belief that mitochondria are indispensable.

High-quality genome analysis revealed the complete loss of mitochondria in three oxymonad species, pushing this unique event back 100 million years ago.

  1. Mitochondrial Loss Across Species: Genomic studies confirm the absence of mitochondria in Blattamonas nauphoetae, Streblomastix strix, and Monocercomonoides exilis, suggesting this trait is common to the entire Oxymonadida group.

  2. Evolutionary Insights: The timeline of mitochondrial loss places this phenomenon at around 100 million years ago, coinciding with the diversification of the oxymonad lineage.

  3. Metabolic Adaptations: Comparative analysis highlights the metabolic changes accompanying the transition to amitochondriality, shedding light on the unique evolutionary journey of oxymonads.

In summary, Oxymonad flagellates challenge our understanding of cellular evolution by completely shedding mitochondria, marking a significant paradigm shift in eukaryotic biology. The study's insights into the ancient origins and metabolic adaptations of these organisms provide a fascinating glimpse into the mysteries of their evolutionary past.

Article DOI.

Photo Credits: Lukas Novak, CC-BY 4.0,

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