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Although the collection of completely sequenced mitochondrial genomes is expanding rapidly, only recently has a phylogenetically broad representation of mtDNA sequences from protists (mostly unicellular eukaryotes) become available. This review surveys the 23 complete protist mtDNA sequences that have been determined to date, commenting on such aspects as mitochondrial genome structure, gene content, ribosomal RNA, introns, transfer RNAs and the genetic code and phylogenetic implications. We also illustrate the utility of a comparative genomics approach to gene identification by providing evidence that orfB in plant and protist mtDNAs is the homolog of atp8 , the gene in animal and fungal mtDNA that encodes subunit 8 of the F0portion of mitochondrial ATP synthase. Although several protist mtDNAs, like those of animals and most fungi, are seen to be highly derived, others appear to be have retained a number of features of the ancestral, proto-mitochondrial genome. Some of these ancestral features are also shared with plant mtDNA, although the latter have evidently expanded considerably in size, if not in gene content, in the course of evolution. Comparative analysis of protist mtDNAs is providing a new perspective on mtDNA evolution: how the original mitochondrial genome was organized, what genes it contained, and in what ways it must have changed in different eukaryotic phyla.