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Escherichia coli K-12 synthesizes thiamine pyrophosphate (vitamin B1) de novo. Two precursors [4-methyl-5-(beta-hydroxyethyl)thiazole monophosphate and 4-amino-5-hydroxymethyl-2-methylpyrimidine pyrophosphate] are coupled to form thiamine monophosphate, which is then phosphorylated to make thiamine pyrophosphate. Previous studies have identified two classes of thi mutations, clustered at 90 min on the genetic map, which result in requirements for the thiazole or the hydroxymethylpryimidine. We report here our initial molecular genetic analysis of the thi cluster. We cloned the thi cluster genes and examined their organization, structure, and function by a combination of phenotypic testing, complementation analysis, polypeptide expression, and DNA sequencing. We found five tightly linked genes, designated thiCEFGH. The thiC gene product is required for the synthesis of the hydroxymethylpyrimidine. The thiE, thiF, thiG, and thiH gene products are required for synthesis of the thiazole. These mutants did not respond to 1-deoxy-D-threo-2-pentulose, indicating that they are blocked in the conversion of this precursor compound to the thiazole itself.