Biosynthesis of polyunsaturated fatty acids in C. elegans is initiated by the introduction of a double bond at the delta9 position of a saturated fatty acid. We identified three C. elegans fatty acid desaturase genes related to the yeast delta9 desaturase OLE1 and the rat stearoyl-CoA desaturase SCD1. Heterologous expression of all three genes rescues the fatty acid auxotrophy of the yeast delta9 desaturase mutant ole1. Examination of the fatty acid composition of the transgenic yeast reveals striking differences in the substrate specificities of these desaturases. Two desaturases, FAT-6 and FAT-7, readily desaturate stearic acid (18:0) and show less activity on palmitic acid (16:0). In contrast, the other desaturase, FAT-5, readily desaturates palmitic acid (16:0), but shows nearly undetectable activity on the common delta9 substrate stearic acid. This is the first report of a palmitoyl-CoA-specific membrane fatty acid desaturase.