Saccharomyces cerevisiae contains three genes that encode members of the histone H2A gene family. The last of these to be discovered, HTZ1 (also known as HTA3), encodes a member of the highly conserved H2A.Z class of histones. Little is known about how its in vivo function compares with that of the better studied genes (HTA1 and HTA2) encoding the two major H2As. We show here that, while the HTZ1 gene encoding H2A.Z is not essential in budding yeast, its disruption results in slow growth and formamide sensitivity. Using plasmid shuffle experiments, we show that the major H2A genes cannot provide the function of HTZ1 and the HTZ1 gene cannot provide the essential function of the genes encoding the major H2As. We also demonstrate for the first time that H2A.Z genes are functionally conserved by showing that the gene encoding the H2A.Z variant of the ciliated protozoan TETRAHYMENA: thermophila is able to rescue the phenotypes associated with disruption of the yeast HTZ1 gene. Thus, the functions of H2A.Z are distinct from those of the major H2As and are highly conserved.