To accelerate gene discovery and facilitate genetic mapping in the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, we have generated >7000 new ESTs from the 5' ends of randomly selected tachyzoite cDNAs. Comparison of the ESTs with the existing gene databases identified possible functions for more than 500 new T. gondii genes by virtue of sequence motifs shared with conserved protein families, including factors involved in transcription, translation, protein secretion, signal transduction, cytoskeleton organization, and metabolism. Despite this success in identifying new genes, more than 50% of the ESTs correspond to genes of unknown function, reflecting the divergent evolutionary status of this parasite. A newly recognized class of genes was identified based on its similarity to sequences known only from other members of the same phylum, therefore identifying sequences that are apparently restricted to the Apicomplexa. Such genes may underlie pathways common to this group of medically important parasites, therefore identifying potential targets for intervention.