The Azotobacter vinelandii [NiFe]hydrogenase-encoding structural genes were isolated from an A. vinelandii genomic cosmid library. Nucleotide (nt) sequence analysis showed that the two genes, hoxK and hoxG, which encode the small and large subunits of the enzyme, respectively, form part of an operon that contains at least one other gene. The hoxK gene encodes a polypeptide of 358 amino acids (aa) (39,209 Da). The deduced aa sequence encodes a possible 45-aa N-terminus extension, not present in the purified A. vinelandii hydrogenase small subunit, which could be a cellular targeting sequence. The hoxG gene is downstream form, and overlaps hoxK by 4 nt and encodes a 602-aa polypeptide of 66,803 Da. The hoxK and hoxG gene products display homology to aa sequences of hydrogenase small and large subunits, respectively, from other organisms. The hoxG gene lies 16 nt upstream from a third open reading frame which could encode a 27,729-Da (240-aa) hydrophobic polypeptide containing 53% nonpolar and 11% aromatic aa. The significance of this possible third gene is not known at present.