We have analyzed a region of approximately 5.4 million base pairs for mutations, which under standard laboratory conditions result in developmental arrest, sterility, or maternal-effect lethality in Caenorhabditis elegans. Lethal mutations were isolated, maintained, and genetically manipulated as homozygotes using sDp2--a duplication of the left half of chromosome I. All of the lethals and rearrangements used in this analysis were balanced by sDp2. Relatively low doses of mutagen, (approximately 15 mM ethylmethane sulfate; EMS), were used so as to limit the occurrence of second-site mutations, thus increasing the probability of recovering single nucleotide substitutions. Treatment of over 32,400 marked chromosomes resulted in 486 analyzed mutations. In this paper, we add 133 previously unidentified let genes, isolated in the EMS screens, and one let gene identified by a gamma-ray induced mutation, to our collection of 103 essential genes. We also recovered lethal alleles of genes for which visible mutants already existed. In total, eight deficiencies and alleles of 237 essential genes were identified. Eighty-nine of the previously unidentified let genes are represented by more than one lethal allele. Statistical analysis indicates a minimum estimate of 400 essential genes in the region of chromosome I balanced by sDp2. This region occupies approximately half of chromosome I, and contains over 1135 protein-coding genes predicted from the genomic sequence data. Thus, approximately one-third of the predicted genes are estimated to be essential. Of these approximately 60% are represented by lethal alleles. Less than 2% of the lethal-bearing strains recovered in our analysis, including the eight genetically definable deficiencies, carried more than one lethal mutation. Several screens were used to recover mutations for this analysis. Because all the mutations were isolated using the same balancer, under similar screening conditions, it was possible to compare intervals within the sDp2 region with each other. The fraction of essential genes that present relatively large targets for EMS was highest within the central cluster (dpy-5 to unc-13).