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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The iron-sulfur cluster assembly genes iscS and iscU of Entamoeba histolytica were acquired by horizontal gene transfer

Mark van der Giezen*, Siân Cox and Jorge Tovar

Author Affiliations

School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2004, 4:7  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-7

Published: 20 February 2004



Iron-sulfur (FeS) proteins are present in all living organisms and play important roles in electron transport and metalloenzyme catalysis. The maturation of FeS proteins in eukaryotes is an essential function of mitochondria, but little is known about this process in amitochondriate eukaryotes. Here we report on the identification and analysis of two genes encoding critical FeS cluster (Isc) biosynthetic proteins from the amitochondriate human pathogen Entamoeba histolytica.


E. histolytica IscU and IscS were found to contain all features considered essential for their biological activity, including amino acid residues involved in substrate and/or co-factor binding. The IscU protein differs significantly from other eukaryotic homologs and resembles the long type isoforms encountered in some bacteria. Phylogenetic analyses of E. histolytica IscS and IscU showed a close relationship with homologs from Helicobacter pylori and Campylobacter jejuni, to the exclusion of mitochondrial isoforms.


The bacterial-type FeS cluster assembly genes of E. histolytica suggest their lateral acquisition from epsilon proteobacteria. This is a clear example of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from eubacteria to unicellular eukaryotic organisms, a phenomenon known to contribute significantly to the evolution of eukaryotic genomes.