In plants and fungi, the introduction of transgenes can lead to post-transcriptional gene silencing. This phenomenon, in which expression of the transgene and of endogenous genes containing sequences homologous to the transgene can be blocked, is involved in virus resistance and genome maintenance. Transgene-induced gene silencing has been termed quelling in Neurospora crassa and co-suppression in plants. Quelling-defective (qde) mutants of N. crassa, in which transgene-induced gene silencing is impaired, have been isolated. Here we report the cloning of qde-1, the first cellular component of the gene-silencing mechanism to be isolated, which defines a new gene family conserved among different species including plants, animals and fungi. The qde-1 gene product is similar to an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase found in the tomato. The identification of qde-1 strongly supports models that implicate an RNA-dependent RNA polymerase in the post-transcriptional gene-silencing mechanism. The presence of qde-1 homologues in a variety of species of plants and fungi indicates that a conserved gene-silencing mechanism may exist, which could have evolved to preserve genome integrity and to protect the genome against naturally occurring transposons and viruses.