Aflatoxins are potent toxic and carcinogenic compounds, produced by Aspergillus parasiticus and A. flavus as secondary metabolites. In this research, a polyketide synthase gene (pksL1), the key gene for aflatoxin biosynthesis initiation in A. parasiticus, has been functionally identified and molecularly characterized. PCR-derived DNA probes were used to find the pksL1 gene from subtracted, aflatoxin-related clones. Gene knockout experiments generated four pksL1 disruptants which lost both the ability to produce aflatoxins B1, B2, and G1 and the ability to accumulate norsolorinic acid and all other intermediates of the aflatoxin biosynthetic pathway. A pksL1 DNA probe detected a 6.6-kb poly(A)+ RNA transcript in Northern (RNA) hybridizations. This transcript, associated with aflatoxin production, exhibited a regulated expression that was influenced by growth phase, medium composition, and culture temperature. DNA sequencing of pksL1 revealed an open reading frame for a polypeptide (PKSL1) of 2,109 amino acids. Sequence analysis further recognized four functional domains in PKSL1, acyl carrier protein, beta-ketoacyl-acyl carrier protein synthase, acyltransferase, and thioesterase, all of which are usually present in polyketide synthases and fatty acid synthases. On the basis of these results, we propose that pksL1 encodes the polyketide synthase which synthesizes the backbone polyketide and initiates aflatoxin biosynthesis. In addition, the transcript of pksL1 exhibited heterogeneity at the polyadenylation site similar to that of plant genes.