The gene for RsuA, the pseudouridine synthase that converts U516 to pseudouridine in 16S ribosomal RNA of Escherichia coli, has been deleted in strains MG1655 and BL21/DE3. Deletion of this gene resulted in the specific loss of pseudouridine516 in both cell lines, and replacement of the gene in trans on a plasmid restored the pseudouridine. Therefore, rsuA is the only gene in E. coli with the ability to produce a protein capable of forming pseudouridine516. There was no effect on the growth rate of rsuA- MG1655 either in rich or minimal medium at either 24, 37, or 42 degrees C. Plasmid rescue of the BL21/DE3 rsuA- strain using pET15b containing an rsuA gene with aspartate102 replaced by asparagine or threonine demonstrated that neither mutant was active in vivo. This result supports a role for this aspartate, located in a unique GRLD sequence in this gene, at the catalytic center of the synthase. Induction of wild-type and the two mutant synthases in strain BL21/DE3 from genes in pET15b yielded a strong overexpression of all three proteins in approximately equal amounts showing that the mutations did not affect production of the protein in vivo and thus that the lack of activity was not due to a failure to produce a gene product. Aspartate102 is found in a conserved motif present in many pseudouridine synthases. The conservation and distribution of this motif in nature was assessed.