The phylogenetic diversity of the eukaryotic kingdom was assessed by comparing the structural and evolutionary diversity of 18-20S ribosomal RNA genes. The coding regions for cytoplasmic small subunit ribosomal RNA genes vary in length from 1753 to 2305 nucleotides, and they appear to be evolutionary mosaics in which highly and partially conserved sequences are interspersed among regions that display very high rates of genetic drift. Structural similarities between these gene sequences were used to establish a phylogenetic framework for the eukaryotes. The extent of sequence variation within the eukaryotes exceeds that displayed within the eubacterial or archaebacterial lines of descent. The kinetoplastids and euglenoids represent the earliest branchings among the eukaryotes. These branchings preceded the divergence of lineages leading to the slime molds and apicomplexans and far antedate a radiative period that gave rise to the plants, animals, fungi, and other protists.