To obtain an understanding of the origin, diversification and genomic organization of vertebrate olfactory receptor genes, we have newly cloned and characterized putative olfactory receptor genes, mfOR1, mfOR2, mfOR3 and mfOR4 from the genomic DNA of medaka fish (Oryzias latipes). The four sequences contained features commonly seen in known olfactory receptor genes and were phylogenetically most closely related to those of catfish and zebrafish. Among them, mfOR1 and mfOR2 showed the highest amino acid (aa) similarity (93%) and defined a novel olfactory receptor gene family that is most divergent among all other vertebrate olfactory receptor genes. Southern hybridization analyses suggested that mfOR1 and mfOR2 are tightly linked to each other (within 24kb), although suitable marker genes were not available to locate their linkage group. Unlike observation in catfish olfactory receptor sequences, nucleotide (nt) substitutions between the two sequences did not show any evidence of positive natural selection. mfOR3 and mfOR4, however, showed a much lower aa similarity (26%) and were both mapped to a region in the medaka linkage group XX. After including these medaka fish sequences, olfactory receptors of terrestrial and aquatic animals formed significantly different clusters in the phylogenetic tree. Although the member genes of each olfactory receptor gene subfamily are less in fish than that in mammals, fish seem to have maintained more diverse olfactory receptor gene families. Our finding of a novel olfactory receptor gene family in medaka fish may provide a step towards understanding the emergence of the olfactory receptor gene in vertebrates.