Mammalian 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and plant dihydroflavonol reductases are descended from a common ancestor. Here we present evidence that Nocardia cholesterol dehydrogenase, E. coli UDP-galactose-4 epimerase, and open reading frames in vaccinia virus and fish lymphocystis disease virus are homologous to 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and dihydroflavonol reductase. Analysis of a multiple alignment of these sequences indicates that viral ORFs are most closely related to the mammalian 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases. The ancestral protein of this superfamily is likely to be one that metabolized sugar nucleotides. The sequence similarity between 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and the viral ORFs is sufficient to suggest that these ORFs have an activity that is similar to 3 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase or cholesterol dehydrogenase, although the putative substrates are not yet known.