In both Klebsiella pneumoniae and Azotobacter vinelandii the nifL gene, which encodes a negative regulator of nitrogen fixation, lies immediately upstream of nifA. We have sequenced the A. vinelandii nifL gene and found that it is more homologous in its C-terminal domain to the histidine protein kinases (HPKs) than is K. pneumoniae NifL. In particular A. vinelandii NifL contains a conserved histidine at a position shown to be phosphorylated in other systems. Both NifL proteins are homologous in their N-termini to a part of the Halobacterium halobium bat gene product; Bat is involved in regulation of bacterio-opsin, the expression of which is oxygen sensitive. The same region showed homology to the haem-binding N-terminal domain of the Rhizobium meliloti fixL gene product, an oxygen-sensing protein. Like K. pneumoniae NifL, A. vinelandii NifL is shown here to prevent expression of nif genes in the presence of NH+4 or oxygen. The sequences found homologous in the C-terminal regions of NifL, FixL and Bat might therefore be involved in oxygen binding or sensing. An in-frame deletion mutation in the nifL coding region resulted in loss of repression by NH+4 and the mutant excreted high amounts of ammonia during nitrogen fixation, thus confirming a phenotype reported earlier for an insertion mutation. In addition, nifLA are cotranscribed in A. vinelandii as in K. pneumoniae, but expression from the A. vinelandii promoter requires neither RpoN nor NtrC.