Ubiquitin-dependent selective protein degradation serves to eliminate abnormal proteins and provides controlled short half-lives to certain cellular proteins, including proteins of regulatory function such as phytochrome, yeast MAT alpha 2 repressor, p53 and cyclin. Moreover, ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis is thought to play an essential role during development and in programmed cell death. We have cloned a gene from Drosophila melanogaster, UbcD1, coding for a protein with striking sequence similarity to the yeast ubiquitin-conjugating enzymes UBC4 and UBC5. These closely related yeast enzymes are known to be central components of a major proteolytic pathway of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. By doing a precise open reading frame replacement in the yeast genome we could show that the Drosophila UbcD1 enzyme can functionally substitute for yeast UBC4. UbcD1 driven by the UBC4 promoter rescues growth defects and temperature sensitivity of yeast ubc4 ubc5 double mutant cells. Moreover, expression of UbcD1 restores proteolysis proficiency in the ubc4 ubc5 double mutant, indicating that the Drosophila enzyme also mediates protein degradation. This structural and functional conservation suggests that the UbcD1-UBC4-UBC5 class of enzymes defines a major proteolytic pathway in probably all eukaryotes.