The consensus sequence of E.coli promoter elements was determined by the method of random selection. A large collection of hybrid molecules was produced in which random-sequence oligonucleotides were cloned in place of a wild-type promoter element, and functional -10 and -35 E.coli promoter elements were obtained by a genetic selection involving the expression of a structural gene. The DNA sequences and relative levels of function for -10 and -35 elements were determined. The consensus sequences determined by this approach are very similar to those determined by comparing DNA sequences of naturally occurring E.coli promoters. However, no strong correlation is observed between similarity to the consensus and relative level of function. The results are considered in terms of E.coli promoter function and of the general applicability of the random selection method.