Cecropins are antibacterial peptides that are synthesized in insects as a response to infection. As a first step towards a molecular study of the induction of this response, we have isolated genomic clones that cover the cecropin locus in Drosophila melanogaster. This locus was found to be unique, and it was mapped cytologically to the chromosomal location 99E. Sequence analysis showed it to be unusually compact, with three expressed genes and two pseudogenes within less than 4 kb of DNA, and with another homologous region less than 4 kb away. Two of the genes, A1 and A2, encode a product that is identical to the major cecropin from Sarcophaga peregrina, while the cecropin encoded by the B gene differs in five positions. Cecropin transcripts appear within an hour after bacteria have been injected into the hemocoel, reach a maximum after 2-6 h, and have almost disappeared again after 24 h. The B gene is induced in parallel with the A genes, but on a lower level. The cecropin genes were also induced when the flies were kept on food with the Drosophila pathogenic bacterium Serratia marcescens Db10 or its non-pathogenic derivative Db1140.