Redox chemistry is central to the primary functions of chloroplasts and mitochondria, that is, to energy conversion in photosynthesis and respiration. However, these bioenergetic organelles always contain very small, specialized genetic systems, relics of their bacterial origin. At huge cost, organellar genomes contain, typically, a mere 0.1% of the genetic information in a eukaryotic cell. There is evidence that chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes encode proteins whose function and biogenesis are particularly tightly governed by electron transfer. We have identified nuclear genes for 'bacterial' histidine sensor kinases and aspartate response regulators that seem to be targeted to chloroplast and mitochondrial membranes. Sequence similarities to cyanobacterial redox signalling components indicate homology and suggest conserved sensory and signalling functions. Two-component redox signalling pathways might be ancient, conserved mechanisms that permit endogenous control over the biogenesis, in situ, of bioenergetic complexes of chloroplasts and mitochondria.