The hyp operon of Escherichia coli comprises several genes which are required for the synthesis of all three hydrogenase isoenzymes. Deletions were introduced into each of the hypA-E genes, transferred to the chromosome and the resulting mutants were analysed for hydrogenase 1, 2 and 3 activity. The products of three of the genes, hypB, hypD and hypE were found to be essential for the synthesis of all three hydrogenase isoenzymes. A defect in hypB, as previously observed, could be complemented by high nickel concentrations in the medium, whereas the effects of mutants in the other genes could not. Lesions in hypA prevented development of hydrogenase 3 activity, did not influence the level of hydrogenase 1 but led to a considerable increase in hydrogenase 2 activity although the amount of hydrogenase 2 protein was not drastically altered. Lesions in hypC, on the other hand, led to a reduction of hydrogenase 1 activity and abolished hydrogenase 3 activity. HYPA and HYPC, besides being required for hydrogenase 3 formation, therefore may have a function in modulating the activities of the three isoenzymes with respect to each other and adjusting their levels to the requirement imposed by the physiological situation. Mutations in all five hyp genes prevented the apparent processing of the large subunits of all three hydrogenase isoenzymes. It is concluded that the products of the hypA-E genes play a role in nickel incorporation into hydrogenase apoprotein and/or processing of the constituent subunits of this enzyme. The importance of their roles is also reflected in their phylogenetic conservation in distantly related organisms.