We have isolated and characterized cDNA and genomic clones that specify a Paracentrotus lividus procollagen chain. The cDNAs code for 160 uninterrupted Gly-Xaa-Yaa triplets and a 252-amino acid carboxyl propeptide. Analysis of the deduced amino acid sequences indicated that the sea urchin polypeptide exhibits structural features that are characteristic of the fibril-forming class of collagen molecules. Partial characterization of two genomic recombinants revealed that the 3' end of the echinoid gene displays a complex organization that closely resembles that of a prototypical vertebrate fibrillar collagen gene. In situ and Northern (RNA) blot hybridizations established the size, time of appearance, and tissue distribution of the collagen transcripts in the developing sea urchin embryo. Collagen mRNA, approximately equal to 6 kilobases in size, is first detected in the forming primary mesenchyme cells of late blastulae where it progressively accumulates until the free swimming/feeding pluteus larval stage. Interestingly, collagen transcripts are also detected in the forming secondary mesenchyme cells of late gastrulae, and by the prism stage, their derivatives appear to be the most intensively labeled cells.