The molecular evolution of the alcohol dehydrogenase 1 (Adh1; alcohol:NAD+ oxidoreductase, EC 188.8.131.52) locus in members of the grass family is analyzed. We report the complete DNA sequence of a genomic clone of Adh1 from Pennisetum glaucum cv. Tift 23DB (pearl millet). The gene is characterized by ten exons and nine introns. The 5' flanking region of the gene contains sequences corresponding to the anaerobic regulatory element as well as sequences corresponding to the TATA box and the CAAT box identified in the maize Adh1-1S flanking regions. Exon sequences from Pennisetum and maize have been subjected to relative rate tests; the maize and Pennisetum Adh1 lineages evolve at equal rates. These results are compared with similar relative rate studies by using the chloroplast DNA encoding the ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase (rbcL) gene. Evolutionary rates of Adh1 are estimated. Nonsynonymous rates are found to be 2.50 x 10(-10) substitutions per site per year, whereas synonymous rates are approximately 7.90 x 10(-9) substitutions per site per year. Molecular phylogenies of the Poaceae based upon Adh1 data are presented.