mRNA for bacteriorhodopsin from Halobacterium halobium has been partially purified. By using this mRNA as template in the presence of reverse transcriptase RNA-dependent DNA nucleotidyltransferase and a 5'-[32P] synthetic oligodeoxyribonucleotide corresponding to amino acids 9-12 of bacteriorhodopsin as primer, we have isolated the major 5'-[32P]cDNA product, approximately 80 nucleotides long, and determined its sequence. Based on the cDNA sequence, the 5'-proximal sequence of bacteriorhodopsin mRNA is G-C-A-U-G-U-U-G-G-A-G-U-U-A-U-U-G-C-C-A-A-C-A-G-C-A-G-U-G-G-A-G-G-G-G-G-U-A-U-C -G-C-A-G-G-C-C-C-A-G-A-U-C-A-C-C-G-G-A-C-G-U-C-C-G. This includes the expected sequence for amino acids 1-8 and shows that bacteriorhodopsin is synthesized as a precursor that is at least 13 amino acids longer (Met-Leu-Glu-Leu-Leu-Pro-Thr-Ala-Val-Glu-Gly-Val-Ser) at the NH2 terminus. Agarose/urea gel electrophoresis of the partially purified mRNA showed several bands; of these, a major one hybridized with 5'-[32P]cDNA. These results suggest that the bacteriorhodopsin mRNA in the partially purified preparation is homogeneous in size and that it constitutes a substantial portion of the RNA preparation subjected to electrophoresis.