The evolutionarily recent transfer of the gene for cytochrome c oxidase subunit 2 (cox2) from the mitochondrion to the nucleus in legumes is shown to have involved novel gene-activation steps. The acquired mitochondrial targeting presequence is bordered by two introns. Characterization of the import of soybean Cox2 indicates that the presequence is cleaved in a three-step process which is independent of assembly. The final processing step takes place only in the mitochondria of legume species, and not in several non-legume plants. The unusually long presequence of 136 amino acids consists of three regions: the first 20 amino acids are required for mitochondrial targeting and can be replaced by another presequence; the central portion of the presequence is required for efficient import of the Cox2 protein into mitochondria; and the last 12 amino acids, derived from the mitochondrially encoded protein, are required for correct maturation of the imported protein. The acquisition of a unique presequence, and the capacity for legume mitochondria to remove this presequence post-import, are considered to be essential adaptations for targeting of Cox2 to the mitochondrion and therefore activation of the transferred gene in the nucleus.