Several essential biochemical processes are situated in mitochondria. The metabolic transformation of mitochondria in distinct lineages of eukaryotes created proteomes ranging from thousands of proteins to what appear to be a much simpler scenario. In the case of Entamoeba histolytica, tiny mitochondria known as mitosomes have undergone extreme reduction. Only recently a single complete metabolic pathway of sulfate activation has been identified in these organelles. The E. histolytica mitosomes do not produce ATP needed for the sulfate activation pathway and for three molecular chaperones, Cpn60, Cpn10 and mtHsp70. The already characterized ADP/ATP carrier would thus be essential to provide cytosolic ATP for these processes, but how the equilibrium of inorganic phosphate could be maintained was unknown. Finally, how the mitosomal proteins are translocated to the mitosomes had remained unclear. We used a hidden Markov model (HMM) based search of the E. histolytica genome sequence to discover candidate (i) mitosomal phosphate carrier complementing the activity of the ADP/ATP carrier and (ii) membrane-located components of the protein import machinery that includes the outer membrane translocation channel Tom40 and membrane assembly protein Sam50. Using in vitro and in vivo systems we show that E. histolytica contains a minimalist set up of the core import components in order to accommodate a handful of mitosomal proteins. The anaerobic and parasitic lifestyle of E. histolytica has produced one of the simplest known mitochondrial compartments of all eukaryotes. Comparisons with mitochondria of another amoeba, Dictystelium discoideum, emphasize just how dramatic the reduction of the protein import apparatus was after the loss of archetypal mitochondrial functions in the mitosomes of E. histolytica.
All eukaryotic organisms have mitochondria, organelles cordoned by a double membrane, which are descendants of an ancestral bacterial endosymbiont. Nowadays, mitochondria are fully integrated into the context of diverse cellular processes and serve in providing energy, iron-containing prosthetic groups and some of the cellular building blocks like lipids and amino acids. In multi-cellular organisms, mitochondria play an additional vital role in cell signaling pathways and programmed cell death. In some unicellular eukaryotes which inhabit oxygen poor environments, intriguing mitochondrial adaptations have taken place resulting in the creation of specialized compartments known as mitosomes and hydrogenosomes. Several important human pathogens like Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia intestinalis, Trichomonas vaginalis and microsporidia contain these organelles and in many cases the function and biogenesis of these organelles remain unknown. In this paper, we investigated the protein import pathways into the mitosomes of E. histolytica, which represent one of the simplest mitochondria-related compartment discovered yet. In accordance with the limited organellar proteome, we show that only core components of mitochondria-related protein import machines are present in E. histolytica to serve for the import of a small set of substrate proteins.