Pneumocystis carinii is the etiologic agent of a lethal pneumonia which occurs in patients with the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and other immunocompromised hosts. The basic biochemical and genetic characteristics of P. carinii are poorly understood and its taxonomic classification as a protozoan is uncertain. To address the taxonomic question, a method was developed for the extraction of total RNA from P. carinii. Denaturing agarose gel electrophoresis showed the two ribosomal RNA species of P. carinii to be similar in size to those of other lower eukaryotes, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Three portions of the small ribosomal RNA of P. carinii were sequenced by reverse transcription from oligonucleotide primers. Three hundred seventy-two nucleotides of sequence were obtained. The sequence derived from P. carinii RNA contained regions that previous phylogenetic studies have shown to be highly variable among species, as well as regions that are highly conserved. Comparison of the P. carinii sequence to corresponding sequences of organisms from other taxa showed the P. carinii sequence to be more similar to sequences from the fungi (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Neurospora crassa, Candida albicans, and Cryptococcus diffuens) than to protozoan sequences. These data suggest that P. carinii is more closely related to fungi than to protozoa.