The wealth of accumulating data from the Caenorhabditis elegans genome sequencing project has rapidly accelerated the discovery of novel potassium channel genes and now places within reach the possibility of describing the total complement of potassium channels used by an individual species. Using annotated GenBank sequences, BLAST searches of unfinished sequences and degenerate oligonucleotide polymerase chain reaction (PCR) screens, we have identified and compiled genes for 38 C. elegans potassium channel and two cyclic nucleotide-gated cation channel subunits, representing eight conserved multigene families. Novel families of potassium channel genes were revealed, as well as conserved homologues of all known vertebrate families. Two separate families represent C. elegans homologues for human potassium channels recently implicated in hereditary long QT arrhythmias. Of particular note is an exceptionally large class of at least 23 genes with a novel subunit structure having two tandem 'P' domains; these channels may form as dimers in contrast to all other potassium channel types which form as tetramers. The 40 potassium channel genes are evenly distributed on all six C. elegans chromosomes, with the exception of the instances of gene clustering on the fifth and X chromosomes.