Fatty-acid synthase has been purified to homogeneity from human liver by a 3-step procedure including protamine sulfate/ammonium sulfate fractionation, affinity chromatography on 2',5'-ADP-Sepharose 4B and gel filtration on Sephacryl S-300. Both the human and rat fatty-acid synthase had similar characteristics regarding molecular mass, subunit structure, amino-acid composition, and substrate affinities. In order to measure the fatty-acid synthase activities in small tissue samples it was necessary to improve the sensitivity of an isotopic assay using [14C]malonyl-CoA as tracer. Special attention was paid to the dual role of free CoASH as an activator and inhibitor of the enzyme. Considerable differences existed between the specific activities of the fatty-acid synthase complex measured in human and rat lipogenic organs. Only negligible values of about 1 mU/mg protein were found in human liver and adipose tissue, while the corresponding activities were 10- to 50-fold higher in young lean rats. Less pronounced but still remarkable differences were determined for the activity of the acetyltransferase which catalyses the initial primer reaction of the fatty-acid synthase complex. In some selected cases under long-term fat-free diet (alcoholism, parenteral nutrition) elevated values of fatty-acid synthase activities were detected in human tissues. Under usual diet, with a relatively high fat content of up to 40 percent, and even after a carbohydrate-rich diet for three days, fatty-acid synthase activity remained low. It is concluded that under the dietary conditions, common for the industrialized world, de novo lipogenesis in man is negligible.