The anaerobic archaebacterium, Pyrococcus furiosus, grows optimally at 100 degrees C by a fermentative-type metabolism in which H2, CO2, and organic acids are end products. The growth of this organism is stimulated by tungsten, and, from it, a novel, red-colored, tungsten-iron-sulfur protein, abbreviated RTP, has been purified (Mukund, S., and Adams, M. W. W. (1990) J. Biol. Chem. 265, 11508-11516). RTP (Mr approximately 85,000) contained approximately 1W, 7Fe, and 5 acid-labile sulfide atoms/molecule and exhibited unique EPR properties. The physiological function of the protein, however, was unknown. We show here that RTP is an inactive form of an aldehyde ferredoxin oxidoreductase (AOR). The active enzyme was obtained by rapid purification under anaerobic conditions using buffers containing dithiothreitol and glycerol. AOR catalyzed the oxidation of a range of aliphatic aldehydes with an optimum temperature for activity above 90 degrees C, but it did not oxidize glucose or glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate, nor reduce NAD(P), and its activity was independent of CoA. The active (AOR) and inactive (RTP) forms of the enzyme were indistinguishable in their contents of metals and acid-labile sulfide and in their EPR properties. The latter are though to originate from two nonidentical and spin-coupled iron-sulfur clusters, whereas the tungsten in this enzyme, which was not detectable by EPR, appears to be present as a novel pterin cofactor. Inhibition and activation studies indicated that AOR contains a catalytically essential W-SH group that is not present in RTP, the inactive form. AOR is a new type of aldehyde-oxidizing enzyme and is the first aldehyde oxidoreductase to be purified from an archaebacterium or a nonactogenic anaerobic bacterium. Its physiological role in P. furiosus is proposed as the oxidation of glyceraldehyde to glycerate in a unique, partially nonphosphorylated, glycolytic pathway that generates acetyl-CoA from glucose without the participation of nicotinamide nucleotides.