Escherichia coli ribonucleases (RNases) HII, III, II, PH and D have been used to characterise new and known viral, bacterial, archaeal and eucaryotic sequences similar to these endo- (HII and III) and exoribonucleases (II, PH and D). Statistical models, hidden Markov models (HMMs), were created for the RNase HII, III, II and PH and D families as well as a double-stranded RNA binding domain present in RNase III. Results suggest that the RNase D family, which includes Werner syndrome protein and the 100 kDa antigenic component of the human polymyositis scleroderma (PMSCL) autoantigen, is a 3'-->5' exoribonuclease structurally and functionally related to the 3'-->5' exodeoxyribonuclease domain of DNA polymerases. Polynucleotide phosphorylases and the RNase PH family, which includes the 75 kDa PMSCL autoantigen, possess a common domain suggesting similar structures and mechanisms of action for these 3'-->5' phosphorolytic enzymes. Examination of HMM-generated multiple sequences alignments for each family suggest amino acids that may be important for their structure, substrate binding and/or catalysis.