Galactokinase (EC 188.8.131.52) catalyzes the first committed step in the catabolism of galactose. The sugar is phosphorylated at position 1 at the expense of ATP. Lack of fully functional galactokinase is one cause of the inherited disease galactosemia, the main clinical manifestation of which is early onset cataracts. Human galactokinase (GALK1) was expressed in and purified from Escherichia coli. The recombinant enzyme was both soluble and active. Product inhibition studies showed that the most likely kinetic mechanism of the enzyme was an ordered ternary complex one in which ATP is the first substrate to bind. The lack of a solvent kinetic isotope effect suggests that proton transfer is unlikely to be involved in the rate determining step of catalysis. Ten mutations that are known to cause galactosemia were constructed and expressed in E. coli. Of these, five (P28T, V32M, G36R, T288M and A384P) were insoluble following induction and could not be studied further. Four of the remainder (H44Y, R68C, G346S and G349S) were all less active than the wild-type enzyme. One mutant (A198V) had kinetic properties that were essentially wild-type. These results are discussed both in terms of galactokinase structure-function relationships and how these functional changes may relate to the causes of galactosemia.