In this paper we compare the water-transport properties of Aquaporin (AQP1), a known water channel, and those of the 28 kD Major Intrinsic Protein of Lens (MIP), a protein with an undefined physiological role. To make the comparison as direct as possible we measured functional properties in Xenopus laevis oocytes injected with cRNAs coding for the appropriate protein. We measured the osmotic permeability, Pf, (using rate of swelling) and the surface density of plasma membrane proteins (using freeze-fracture electron microscopy) in the same oocytes. Knowing both Pf and the number of exogenously expressed proteins in the membrane, we estimated the single-molecule permeability to be 2.8 x 10(-16) cm3/sec for MIP and 1.2 x 10(-14) cm3/sec for AQP1. As a negative control, a mutant MIP, truncated at the carboxyl-terminal, was shown by western blotting to be expressed, but this protein resulted in no increase in either water permeability or particle density. (Interestingly, the truncated protein was glycosylated, while the complete MIP transcript was not.) Water transport by MIP had a higher activation energy (approximately 7 Kcal/ mole) than water transport by AQP1 (approximately 2.5 Kcal/Mole) but a substantially lower activation energy than water flux across bare oolemma (approximately 20 Kcal/mole). Though the water-transport properties of MIP and AQP1 differ quantitatively, they are qualitatively quite similar. We conclude that MIP, like AQP1, forms water channels when expressed in oocytes. Thus water transport in the lens seems a plausible physiological role for MIP.