We have cloned and characterized a novel human serine/threonine protein kinase gene from chromosome 12p13.3 encoding 2382 amino acids. Remarkably, the catalytic domain sequence contains a cysteine in place of a lysine residue conserved in subdomain II of most kinases. The same amino acid alteration was recently described for rat WNK1 (with no K=lysine) in which another nearby lysine residue was shown to confer kinase activity to the protein. Rat WNK1 is 85% identical to a splice variant lacking exons 11 and 12 of the described human kinase which we have called human WNK1. The WNK1 catalytic domain has closest homology with human PAK2, MEKK3, and Raf-1. Three additional, partial human protein kinase sequences, WNK2, WNK3 and WNK4, are also reported here with catalytic domains that are 95% homologous to WNK1. These genes differ both in chromosomal location and tissue-specific expression. Moreover, we have identified in the database a total of 18 WNK-related genes, all exclusively from multi-cellular organisms, which share a WNK kinase sequence signature within subdomains I and II of the catalytic domain. We suggest that they constitute a novel subfamily of protein kinases that evolved together with cell adhesion and tissue-formation.