Anabaena azotica FACHB-118 and Anabaena sp. CH1, heterocystous cyanobacteria isolated from Chinese and Taiwanese rice fields, expressed vanadium-containing nitrogenase when under molybdenum deficiency. This is the second direct observation of an alternative nitrogenase in cyanobacteria. The vanadium nitrogenase-specific genes vnfDG are fused and clustered in a phylogenetic tree next to the corresponding genes of Methanosarcina. The expression of vnfH in cells cultured in Mo-free medium and of nifH in Mo-grown cells was shown for the first time by sequencing cDNA derived from cultures of A. azotica and Anabaena sp. CH1. The vnfH sequences clustered with that of Anabaena variabilis. The vnf genes were strongly transcribed only in cultures grown either in Mo-free medium, or in W-containing medium, but also weakly in Mo-containing medium. NifH was transcribed in all media. On-line measurements of acetylene reduction by Mo-free A. azotica cultures demonstrated that the V-nitrogenase was active. Ethane was formed continuously at a rate of 2.1% of that of ethylene. Acetylene reduction of cultures grown either with or without Mo had a high temperature optimum of 42.5°C. The uptake hydrogenase gene hupL was expressed in Mo-free medium concomitantly with vnfDG in A. azotica, Anabaena sp. CH1, and A. variabilis.