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Prior sequence analysis studies have suggested that bacterial ribonuclease (RNase) Ds comprise a complete domain that is found also in Homo sapiens polymyositis-scleroderma overlap syndrome 100 kDa autoantigen and Werner syndrome protein. This RNase D 3'-->5' exoribonuclease domain was predicted to have a structure and mechanism of action similar to the 3'-->5' exodeoxyibonuclease (proofreading) domain of DNA polymerases. Here, hidden Markov model (HMM) and phylogenetic studies have been used to identify and characterise other sequences that may possess this exonuclease domain. Results indicate that it is also present in the RNase T family; Borrelia burgdorferi P93 protein, an immunodominant antigen in Lyme disease; bacteriophage T4 dexA and Escherichia coli exonuclease I, processive 3'-->5' exodeoxyribonucleases that degrade single-stranded DNA; Bacillus subtilis dinG, a probable helicase involved in DNA repair and possibly replication, and peptide synthase 1; Saccharomyces cerevisiae Pab1p-dependent poly(A) nuclease PAN2 subunit, required for shortening mRNA poly(A) tails; Caenorhabditis elegans and Mus musculus CAF1, transcription factor CCR4-associated factor 1; Xenopus laevis XPMC2, prevention of mitotic catastrophe in fission yeast; Drosophila melanogaster egalitarian, oocyte specification and axis determination, and exuperantia, establishment of oocyte polarity; H.sapiens HEM45, expressed in tumour cell lines and uterus and regulated by oestrogen; and 31 open reading frames including one in Methanococcus jannaschii . Examination of a multiple sequence alignment and two three-dimensional structures of proofreading domains has allowed definition of the core sequence, structural and functional elements of this exonuclease domain.