The sequence and chromosomal distribution of keratin genes of zebrafish were compared with that of other fishes and mammals to provide an insight into the evolution of this gene family in vertebrates. By comparative sequence analysis and radiation hybrid mapping, we identified 16 type I and 7 type II keratin genes in the zebrafish genome. This contrasts with mammals, where type I and type II keratin genes are similar in number. The keratin genes are scattered in the fish genome, contrasting with the two clusters of keratin genes in mammalian genomes. Compared to genes from two species of pufferfish, the zebrafish type I keratin genes underwent an expansion by independent tandem duplications. Expression profiles based on EST counts suggest that some of the tandemly duplicated type I keratin genes from zebrafish either underwent sub-functionalization or acquired new expression domains. The chromosomal arrangement of keratins 8, keratin18, and a second type II keratin, as a cluster of three genes, has remained conserved in vertebrate evolution, except for duplication of the three-gene cluster in some teleosts. This contrasts with other members of the keratin gene family, which diverged independently between fish and mammals.