The availability of the draft sequence of the human genome has created a pressing need to assign functions to each of the 35,000 or so genes that it defines. One useful approach for this purpose is to use model organisms for both bioinformatic and functional comparisons. We have developed a complementation system, based on the model eukaryote Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to clone human cDNAs that can functionally complement yeast essential genes. The system employs two regulatable promoters. One promoter, tetO (determining doxycycline-repressible expression), is used to control essential S. cerevisiae genes. The other, pMET3 (which is switched off in the presence of methionine), is employed to regulate the expression of mammalian cDNAs in yeast. We have demonstrated that this system is effective for both individual cDNA clones and for cDNA libraries, permitting the direct selection of functionally complementing clones. Three human cDNA libraries have been constructed and screened for clones that can complement specific essential yeast genes whose expression is switched off by the addition of doxycycline to the culture medium. The validity of each complementation was checked by showing that the yeast cells stop their growth in the presence of doxycycline and methionine, which represses the expression of the yeast and mammalian coding sequence, respectively. Using this system, we have screened 25 tetO replacement strains and succeeded in isolating human cDNAs complementing six essential yeast genes. In this way, we have uncovered a novel human ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme, have isolated a human cDNA clone that may function as a signal peptidase and have demonstrated that the functional segment of the human Psmd12 proteosome sub-unit contains a PINT domain.