The genome of Pyrococcus furiosus contains the putative mbhABCDEFGHIJKLMN operon for a 14-subunit transmembrane complex associated with a Ni-Fe hydrogenase. Ten ORFs (mbhA-I and mbhM) encode hydrophobic, membrane-spanning subunits. Four ORFs (mbhJKL and mbhN) encode putative soluble proteins. Two of these correspond to the canonical small and large subunit of Ni-Fe hydrogenase, however, the small subunit can coordinate only a single iron-sulfur cluster, corresponding to the proximal [4Fe-4S] cubane. The structural genes for the small and the large subunits, mbhJ and mbhL, are separated in the genome by a third ORF, mbhK, encoding a protein of unknown function without Fe/S binding. The fourth ORF, mbhN, encodes a 2[4Fe-4S] protein. With P. furiosus soluble [4Fe-4S] ferredoxin as the electron donor the membranes produce H2, and this activity is retained in an extracted core complex of the mbh operon when solubilized and partially purified under mild conditions. The properties of this membrane-bound hydrogenase are unique. It is rather resistant to inhibition by carbon monoxide. It also exhibits an extremely high ratio of H2 evolution to H2 uptake activity compared with other hydrogenases. The activity is sensitive to inhibition by dicyclohexylcarbodiimide, an inhibitor of NADH dehydrogenase (complex I). EPR of the reduced core complex is characteristic for interacting iron-sulfur clusters with Em approximately -0.33 V. The genome contains a second putative operon, mbxABCDFGHH'MJKLN, for a multisubunit transmembrane complex with strong homology to the mbh operon, however, with a highly unusual putative binding motif for the Ni-Fe-cluster in the large hydrogenase subunit. Kinetic studies of membrane-bound hydrogenase, soluble hydrogenase and sulfide dehydrogenase activities allow the formulation of a comprehensive working hypothesis of H2 metabolism in P. furiosus in terms of three pools of reducing equivalents (ferredoxin, NADPH, H2) connected by devices for transduction, transfer, recovery and safety-valving of energy.