We report the 1,870-base-pair primary sequence of a human 18S rRNA gene and propose a secondary structure based on this sequence and the general mammalian structure. A basic secondary structure for the small subunit rRNA has been preserved throughout evolution by compensatory and neutral base changes in double-stranded regions. The molecule contains eight regions that can vary in structure and that comprise 432 bases, while 1,438 bases belong to regions of conserved structure among all species tested. The conserved regions show a remarkably low sequence divergence rate of 0.1% between the human and mouse genes over the approximately 80 million years since the mammalian radiation. This value may make the small subunit rDNA the most highly conserved sequence known. Sequence conservation in higher eukaryotes with multiple copies of the gene is probably achieved by the combination of strong selection and the correction of tandem genes by unequal homologous exchange.