The genes (hsd A) encoding EcoA, a restriction and modification system first identified in Escherichia coli 15T-, behave in genetic crosses as alleles of the genes (hsd K) encoding the archetypal type I restriction and modification system of E. coli K12. Nevertheless, molecular experiments have failed to detect relatedness between the A and K systems. We have cloned the hsd A genes and have identified, on the basis of DNA homology, related genes (hsd E) conferring a new specificity to a natural isolate of E. coli. We show that the overall organization of the genes encoding EcoA and EcoE closely parallels that for EcoK. Each enzyme is encoded by three genes, of which only one, hsdS, confers the specificity of DNA interaction. The three genes are in the same order as those encoding EcoK, i.e. hsdR, hsdM and hsdS and, similarly, they include a promoter between hsdR and hsdM from which the M and S genes can be transcribed. The evidence indicates that EcoA and EcoE are type I restriction and modification enzymes, but they appear to identify an alternative family to EcoK. For both families, the hsdR polypeptide is by far the largest, but the sizes of the other two polypeptides are reversed, with the smallest polypeptide of EcoK being the product of hsdS, and the smallest for the EcoA family being the product of hsdM. Physiologically, the A restriction and modification system differs from that of K and its relatives, in that A-specific methylation of unmodified DNA is particularly effective.