Purple acid phosphatases (PAPs) comprise a family of binuclear metal-containing hydrolases, members of which have been isolated from plants, mammals and fungi. Polypeptide chains differ in size (animal approximately 35kDa, plant approximately 55kDa) and exhibit low sequence homology between kingdoms but all residues involved in co-ordination of the metal ions are invariant. A search of genomic databases was undertaken using a sequence pattern which includes the conserved residues. Several novel potential PAP sequences were detected, including the first known examples from bacterial sources. Ten plant ESTs were also identified which, although possessing the conserved sequence pattern, were not homologous throughout their sequences to previously known plant PAPs. Based on these EST sequences, novel cDNAs from sweet potato, soybean, red kidney bean and Arabidopsis thaliana were cloned and sequenced. These sequences are more closely related to mammalian PAP than to previously characterized plant enzymes. Their predicted secondary structure is similar to that of the mammalian enzyme. A model of the sweet potato enzyme was generated based on the coordinates of pig PAP. These observations strongly suggest that the cloned cDNA sequences represent a second group of plant PAPs with properties more similar to the mammalian enzymes than to the high molecular weight plant enzymes.