Escherichia coli glycyl-tRNA synthetase is one of two aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases which is comprised of two different subunits (in an alpha 2 beta 2 structure). The two coding regions occur in tandem in the order alpha + beta and are synthesized from a single mRNA (Keng, T., Webster, T. A., Sauer, R. T., and Schimmel, P. R. (1982) J. Biol. Chem. 257, 12503-12508). Primary structures of both proteins were determined by DNA sequencing of each coding region and by analysis of tryptic fragments of the enzyme. The alpha-subunit is 303 codons and terminates with TAA; the beta-subunit is 689 codons followed by tandem TAA stops. S1 nuclease mapping of the 3'-end of the two-cistron glyS mRNA showed that it predominantly ends 33/34 bases beyond the tandem stops with an RNA polymerse terminator sequence. Altogether, 43% of the translated polypeptide sequences were confirmed by mass spectrometric analysis of peptide fragments including confirmation of the COOH-terminal end of the beta-chain. This involved determinations, by fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry, of the masses of numerous whole tryptic fragments (with an accuracy of better than 1 Da) and of fragments truncated by one to three cycles of Edman degradations. The primary structures of the two subunits show no homologies with each other and have no internal sequence repeats of significance. While there are no extensive homologies with five other sequenced, or partially sequenced, synthetases, the alpha-subunit has a short sequence which can be aligned with sequences found in functionally important areas of two other synthetases and in uncharacterized parts of a third and fourth synthetase.