P granules are cytoplasmic structures of unknown function that are associated with germ nuclei in the C. elegans gonad, and are localized exclusively to germ cells, or germ cell precursors, throughout the life cycle. All the known protein components of P granules contain putative RNA-binding motifs, suggesting that RNA is involved in either the structure or function of the granules. However, no specific mRNAs have been identified within P granules in the gonad. We show here that P granules normally contain a low level of RNA, and describe conditions that increase this level. We present evidence that several, diverse mRNAs, including pos-1, mex-1, par-3, skn-1, nos-2 and gld-1 mRNA, are present at least transiently within P granules. In contrast, actin and tubulin mRNA and rRNA are either not present in P granules, or are present at relatively low levels. We show that pgl-1 and the glh (Vasa-related) gene family, which encode protein components of P granules, do not appear essential for RNA to concentrate in P granules; these proteins may instead function in events that are a prerequisite for RNAs to be transported efficiently from the nuclear surface.