We report the identification and characterization of the gene encoding the eighth and final human ribonuclease (RNase) of the highly diversified RNase A superfamily. The RNase 8 gene is linked to seven other RNase A superfamily genes on chromosome 14. It is expressed prominently in the placenta, but is not detected in any other tissues examined. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that RNase 7 is the closest relative of RNase 8 and that the pair likely resulted from a recent gene duplication event in primates. Further analysis reveals that the RNase 8 gene has incorporated non-silent mutations at an elevated rate (1.3 x 10(-9) substitutions/site/year) and that orthologous RNase 8 genes from 6 of 10 primate species examined have been deactivated by frameshifting deletions or point mutations at crucial structural or catalytic residues. The ribonucleolytic activity of recombinant human RNase 8 is among the lowest of members of this superfamily and it exhibits neither antiviral nor antibacterial activities characteristic of some other RNase A ribonucleases. The rapid evolution, species-limited deactivation and tissue-specific expression of RNase 8 suggest a unique physiological function and reiterates the evolutionary plasticity of the RNase A superfamily.