The microbial rhodopsins (MR) are homologous to putative chaperone and retinal-binding proteins of fungi. These proteins comprise a coherent family that we have termed the MR family. We have used modeling techniques to predict the structure of one of the putative yeast chaperone proteins, YRO2, based on homology with bacteriorhodopsins (BR). Availability of the structure allowed depiction of conserved residues that are likely to be of functional significance. The results lead us to predict an extracellular protein folding function and a transmembrane proton transport pathway. We suggest that protein folding is energized by a novel mechanism involving the proton motive force. We further show that MR family proteins are distantly related to a family of fungal, animal and plant proteins that include the human lysosomal cystine transporter (LCT) of man (cystinosin), mutations in which cause cystinosis. Sequence and phylogenetic analyses of both the MR family and the LCT family are reported. Proteins in both families are of the same approximate size, exhibit seven putative transmembrane alpha-helical spanners (TMSs) and show limited sequence similarity. We show that the LCT family arose by an internal gene duplication event and that TMSs 1-3 are homologous to TMSs 5-7. Although the same could not be demonstrated statistically for MR family members, homology with the LCT family suggests (but does not prove) a common evolutionary pathway. Thus, TMSs 1-3 and 5-7 in both LCT and MR family members may share a common origin, accounting for their shared structural features.