We have explored the evolution of the alpha-globin gene family by comparative sequence and phylogenetic analyses of mammalian alpha-globin genes. Our analyses reveal the existence of a new alpha-globin gene lineage in mammals that is related to the alpha(D)-globin genes of birds, squamates and turtles. The gene is located in the middle of the alpha-globin gene cluster of a marsupial, Sminthopsis macroura and of humans. It exists in a wide variety of additional mammals, including pigs, cows, cats, and dogs, but is a pseudogene in American marsupials. Evolutionary analyses suggest that the gene has generally evolved under purifying selection, indicative of a functional gene. The presence of mRNA products in humans, pigs, and cows also suggest that the gene is expressed and likely to be functional. The analyses support the hypothesis that the alpha(D)-globin gene lineage has an ancient evolutionary origin that predates the divergence of amniotes. The structural similarity of alpha-globin gene clusters of marsupials and humans suggest that an eight gene cluster (5'-zeta2-zeta1-alpha(D)-alpha3-alpha2-alpha1-theta-omega-3'), including seven alpha-like genes and one beta-like globin gene (omega-globin) existed in the common ancestor of all marsupial and eutherian mammals. This basic structure has remained relatively stable in marsupials and in the lineage leading to humans, although omega-globin has been lost from the alpha-globin gene cluster of humans.