The mitochondrial genomes of Chlamydomonad algae lack the cox2 gene that encodes the essential subunit COX II of cytochrome c oxidase. COX II is normally a single polypeptide encoded by a single mitochondrial gene. In this work we cloned two nuclear genes encoding COX II from both Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Polytomella sp. The cox2a gene encodes a protein, COX IIA, corresponding to the N-terminal portion of subunit II of cytochrome c oxidase, and the cox2b gene encodes COX IIB, corresponding to the C-terminal region. The cox2a and cox2b genes are located in the nucleus and are independently transcribed into mRNAs that are translated into separate polypeptides. These two proteins assemble with other cytochrome c oxidase subunits in the inner mitochondrial membrane to form the mature multi-subunit complex. We propose that during the evolution of the Chlorophyte algae, the cox2 gene was divided into two mitochondrial genes that were subsequently transferred to the nucleus. This event was evolutionarily distinct from the transfer of an intact cox2 gene to the nucleus in some members the Leguminosae plant family.