A genomic clone. pTt21. containing DNA apparently transcribed specifically in Trypanosoma cruzi trypomastigotes, was obtained by differentially screening a genomic library with trypomastigote and epimastigote cDNA. This 3444-bp clone contained open reading frames at each end, separated by a 1.8-kb non-coding region. The translated polypeptide from the 3' open reading frame (ORF2) of 1037 bp had 25-30% identity with 5 recently published T. cruzi gp85/sialidase sequences, and 20-25% identity with bacterial sialidases. Rabbit antiserum raised against an Escherichia coli fusion protein derived from the 5' open reading frame (ORF1) identified a surface antigen of 160 kDa, specifically expressed in trypomastigotes. A probe containing the first 211 bp from ORF1 was used to obtain a complete copy (c1821) of a gene that was closely related to ORF1, and encoded another member of the gp85/sialidase family. c 1821 encodes a protein of 897 amino acids, but assignment of the N-terminus of the polypeptide was not possible. The 5'-most start codon is in an unfavourable context to act as a translation initiator, it does not align with the initiator methionines of other gp85/sialidase sequences. nor is it followed by a signal peptide sequence characteristically found in other gp85/sialidase sequences. Although homology with the 5' ends of other gp85/sialidase sequences decays towards the 5' end of c1821, alignment of c1821 with 4 other gp85/sialidases indicated that the coding sequence should extend upstream at least 160 amino acids. In this region of c1821 there are multiple stop codons in each frame. The presence of the stop codons, the alignment data and our inability to amplify reverse transcribed mRNA using four internal primers, suggest that c1821 may not be present as a mature mRNA and is a pseudogene. Comparison of the apparently non-repetitive 3' coding domain of c1821 with the corresponding repetitive domains of two other members of the gp85/sialidase family revealed a high degree of similarity in nucleotide but not in amino acid sequence, and c1821 may thus represent an evolutionary intermediate between sub-families of the gp85/sialidase superfamily. (C) 1992 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.