The ability to express the genes of pathogenic human viruses, such as the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) virus (also called human immunodeficiency virus) in bacterial cells affords the opportunity to study proteins that are ordinarily difficult or inconvenient to obtain in amounts sufficient for detailed analysis. A segment of the AIDS virus pol gene was expressed in Escherichia coli. Expression resulted in the appearance of reverse transcriptase activity in the bacterial cell extracts. The extracts contained two virus-related polypeptides that have the same apparent molecular weights as the two processed forms of virion-derived reverse transcriptase (p66 and p51). The formation of these two polypeptides depended on the coexpression of sequences located near the 5' end of the pol gene, a region that is thought to encode a viral protease. This bacterial system appears to generate mature forms of the AIDS virus reverse transcriptase by a proteolytic pathway equivalent to that which occurs during virus infection of human cells.