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Malarial parasites have two highly conserved cytoplasmic DNA molecules: a 6-kb tandemly arrayed DNA that has characteristics of a mitochondrial genome, and a 35-kb circular DNA that encodes functions commonly found in chloroplasts. We examined the inheritance pattern of these elements in two genetic crosses of Plasmodium falciparum clones. Parent-specific oligonucleotide probes and single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis identified single nucleotide changes that distinguished the parental 6- and 35-kb DNA molecules in the progeny. In all 16 independent recombinant progeny of a cross between a Central American clone, HB3, and a Southeast Asian clone, Dd2, the 6- and 35-kb DNAs were inherited from the Dd2 parent. In all nine independent recombinant progeny of a cross between clone HB3 and a likely African clone, 3D7, the 6-kb DNA was inherited from the 3D7 parent. Inheritance of cytoplasmic genomes of the Dd2 and 3D7 parents was, therefore, dominant over that of the HB3 parent. Cytoplasmic DNA molecules were found almost exclusively in the female gametes of malarial parasites; hence, clone HB3 did not appear to have served as a maternal parent for the progeny of two crosses. Defective differentiation into male gametes by clone Dd2 is likely to be a reason for the cytoplasmic inheritance pattern seen in the HB3 x Dd2 cross. However, incompetence of male or female gametes is unlikely to explain the uniparental dominance in recombinant progeny of the HB3 x 3D7 cross, since both parents readily self-fertilized and completed the malaria life cycle on their own. Instead, the data suggest unidirectional parental incompatibility in cross-fertilization of these malarial parasites, where a usually cosexual parental clone can participate only as a male or as a female. Such an incompatibility may be speculated as indicating an early phase of reproductive isolation of P. falciparum clones from different geographical regions.