The gamma-tubulin ring complex (gammaTuRC) is a protein complex of relative molecular mass approximately 2.2 x 10(6) that nucleates microtubules at the centrosome. Here we use electron-microscopic tomography and metal shadowing to examine the structure of isolated Drosophila gammaTuRCs and the ends of microtubules nucleated by gammaTuRCs and by centrosomes. We show that the gammaTuRC is a lockwasher-like structure made up of repeating subunits, topped asymmetrically with a cap. A similar capped ring is also visible at one end of microtubules grown from isolated gammaTuRCs and from centrosomes. Antibodies against gamma-tubulin label microtubule ends, but not walls, in centrosomes. These data are consistent with a template-mediated mechanism for microtubule nucleation by the gammaTuRC.