Non-clathrin coated vesicles have been implicated in early steps of intercompartmental transport. A distinct set of coat proteins are peripherally associated with the exterior of purified mammalian intra-Golgi transport vesicles. The 'coatomer', a cytosolic complex containing a similar subunit composition to and sharing at least one subunit (beta-COP) with the coat found on vesicles, has been postulated to be the precursor of this non-clathrin coat. Here we describe the characterization of SEC21, an essential gene required for protein transport from the endoplasmic reticulum to the Golgi in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The 105K product of this gene, Sec21p, participates in a cytosolic complex that we show to be a yeast homologue of the mammalian coatomer. These observations demonstrate that a non-clathrin coat protein plays an essential role in intercompartmental transport.