The 16,775 base-pair mitochondrial genome of the white Leghorn chicken has been cloned and sequenced. The avian genome encodes the same set of genes (13 proteins, 2 rRNAs and 22 tRNAs) as do other vertebrate mitochondrial DNAs and is organized in a very similar economical fashion. There are very few intergenic nucleotides and several instances of overlaps between protein or tRNA genes. The protein genes are highly similar to their mammalian and amphibian counterparts and are translated according to the same variant genetic code. Despite these highly conserved features, the chicken mitochondrial genome displays two distinctive characteristics. First, it exhibits a novel gene order, the contiguous tRNA(Glu) and ND6 genes are located immediately adjacent to the displacement loop region of the molecule, just ahead of the contiguous tRNA(Pro), tRNA(Thr) and cytochrome b genes, which border the displacement loop region in other vertebrate mitochondrial genomes. This unusual gene order is conserved among the galliform birds. Second, a light-strand replication origin, equivalent to the conserved sequence found between the tRNA(Cys) and tRNA(Asn) genes in all vertebrate mitochondrial genomes sequenced thus far, is absent in the chicken genome. These observations indicate that galliform mitochondrial genomes departed from their mammalian and amphibian counterparts during the course of evolution of vertebrate species. These unexpected characteristics represent useful markers for investigating phylogenetic relationships at a higher taxonomic level.