Proteins 38 of bacteriophages T2, K3, Ox2 and M1 are located at the free ends of their long tail fibers and function as adhesins, i.e. they mediate binding to the bacterial receptors. The latter three phages use the Escherichia coli outer membrane protein OmpA as a receptor, while T2 uses the outer membrane proteins OmpF or Ttr. The DNA sequences of genes 38 of phages Ox2 and M1 have been determined and are compared with those known for T2 and K3. The genes encode 262(T2), 260(K3), 266(Ox2) and 262(M1) amino acid residues. Three domains are distinguishable in these proteins. There are two conserved regions encompassing about 120 NH2-terminal and about 25 CO2H-terminal residues, respectively. The area between these was found to be hypervariable, and it is shown that a very large number of amino acid substitutions, deletions and/or insertions have occurred. Glycine-rich stretches are present within and flanking these areas. Their positions are essentially conserved, indicating an important structural role in receptor recognition. The hypervariability, most likely caused by a constant struggle with bacterial phage-resistant mutants, is so drastic that one cannot discern that T2 uses different receptors from those of the other phages. The partially known sequence of gene 38 of phage T4 has been completed. The gene encodes a protein consisting of 183 amino acid residues. The amino acid composition and sequence of this protein is completely different from those of phages T2, K3, Ox2 and M1. Also, the protein is functionally unrelated to the other proteins 38: it is not present in phage T4 and, unlike the other proteins 38, is required for the efficient dimerization of protein 37. All phages under study are of the same morphology and the genomic organization of the tail fiber genes is identical, with genes 36, 37 and 38 most likely representing, in this order, a transcriptional unit. Sequence similarities between the CO2H-termini of genes 37 of the non-T4 phages and gene 38 of phage T4 were found; this part of gene 37 does not exist in T4. It is suggested that gene 38 of phage T4 originated from a segment of gene 37 of a T2-type phage. Gene 38 of phage T4 is not unique, DNA-DNA hybridization experiments indicated that two other T-even type phages, TuIa and TuIb, possess a T4-type gene 38.