The process of homologous recombination has been documented in bacterial and eucaryotic organisms. The Escherichia coli RecA and Saccharomyces cerevisiae Rad51 proteins are the archetypal members of two related families of proteins that play a central role in this process. Using the PCR process primed by degenerate oligonucleotides designed to encode regions of the proteins showing the greatest degree of identity, we examined DNA from three organisms of a third phylogenetically divergent group, Archaea, for sequences encoding proteins similar to RecA and Rad51. The archaeans examined were a hyperthermophilic acidophile, Sulfolobus sofataricus (Sso); a halophile, Haloferax volcanii (Hvo); and a hyperthermophilic piezophilic methanogen, Methanococcus jannaschii (Mja). The PCR generated DNA was used to clone a larger genomic DNA fragment containing an open reading frame (orf), that we refer to as the radA gene, for each of the three archaeans. As shown by amino acid sequence alignments, percent amino acid identities and phylogenetic analysis, the putative proteins encoded by all three are related to each other and to both the RecA and Rad51 families of proteins. The putative RadA proteins are more similar to the Rad51 family (approximately 40% identity at the amino acid level) than to the RecA family (approximately 20%). Conserved sequence motifs, putative tertiary structures and phylogenetic analysis implied by the alignment are discussed. The 5' ends of mRNA transcripts to the Sso radA were mapped. The levels of radA mRNA do not increase after treatment with UV irradiation as do recA and RAD51 transcripts in E.coli and S.cerevisiae. Hence it is likely that radA in this organism is a constitutively expressed gene and we discuss possible implications of the lack of UV-inducibility.