Universal trees based on sequences of single gene homologs cannot be rooted. Iwabe et al. [Iwabe, N., Kuma, K.-I., Hasegawa, M., Osawa, S. & Miyata, T. (1989) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 86, 9355-9359] circumvented this problem by using ancient gene duplications that predated the last common ancestor of all living things. Their separate, reciprocally rooted gene trees for elongation factors and ATPase subunits showed Bacteria (eubacteria) as branching first from the universal tree with Archaea (archaebacteria) and Eucarya (eukaryotes) as sister groups. Given its topical importance to evolutionary biology and concerns about the appropriateness of the ATPase data set, an evaluation of the universal tree root using other ancient gene duplications is essential. In this study, we derive a rooting for the universal tree using aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase genes, an extensive multigene family whose divergence likely preceded that of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. An approximately 1600-bp conserved region was sequenced from the isoleucyl-tRNA synthetases of several species representing deep evolutionary branches of eukaryotes (Nosema locustae), Bacteria (Aquifex pyrophilus and Thermotoga maritima) and Archaea (Pyrococcus furiosus and Sulfolobus acidocaldarius). In addition, a new valyl-tRNA synthetase was characterized from the protist Trichomonas vaginalis. Different phylogenetic methods were used to generate trees of isoleucyl-tRNA synthetases rooted by valyl- and leucyl-tRNA synthetases. All isoleucyl-tRNA synthetase trees showed Archaea and Eucarya as sister groups, providing strong confirmation for the universal tree rooting reported by Iwabe et al. As well, there was strong support for the monophyly (sensu Hennig) of Archaea. The valyl-tRNA synthetase gene from Tr. vaginalis clustered with other eukaryotic ValRS genes, which may have been transferred from the mitochondrial genome to the nuclear genome, suggesting that this amitochondrial trichomonad once harbored an endosymbiotic bacterium.