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In Pichia pastoris, alcohol oxidase (AOX) is the first enzyme in the methanol utilization pathway and is encoded by two genes, AOX1 and AOX2. The DNA and predicted amino acid sequences of the protein-coding portions of the genes are closely homologous, whereas flanking sequences share no homology. The functional roles of AOX1 and AOX2 in the metabolism of methanol were examined. Studies of strains with disrupted AOX genes revealed that AOX1 was the major source of methanol-oxidizing activity in methanol-grown P. pastoris. The results of two types of experiments each suggested that the difference in AOX activity contributed by the two genes was a consequence of sequences located 5' of the protein-coding portions of the genes. First, the coding portion of AOX2 was able to functionally substitute for that of AOX1 when placed under the control of AOX1 regulatory sequences. Second, when labeled oligonucleotide probes specific for the 5' nontranslated region of each gene were used, it was apparent that the steady-state level of AOX1 mRNA was much higher than that of AOX2. Except for the difference in the amount of mRNA present, the two genes appeared to be regulated in the same manner. A physiological reason for the existence of AOX2 was sought but was not apparent.