The animal-vegetal axis of sea urchin embryos is morphologically apparent at the 16-cell stage, when the mesomeres, macromeres, and micromeres align along it. At this stage, the micromere is the only autonomously specified blastomere that functions as a signaling center. We used a subtraction PCR survey to identify the homeobox gene micro1 as a micromere-specific gene. The micro1 gene is a representative of a novel family of paired-like class homeobox genes, along with PlHbox12 from Paracentrotus lividus and pmar1 from Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. In the present study, we showed that micro1 is a multicopy gene with six or more polymorphic loci, at least three of which are clustered in a 30-kb region of the genome. The micro1 gene is transiently expressed during early cleavage stages in the micromere. Recently, nuclear beta-catenin was shown to be essential for the specification of vegetal cell fates, including micromeres, and the temporal and spatial coincidence of micro1 expression with the nuclear entry of beta-catenin is highly suggestive. We demonstrated that micro1 is a direct target of beta-catenin. In addition, we showed that micro1 is necessary and sufficient for micromere specification. These observations on the structure, regulation, and function of micro1 lead to the conclusion that micro1 and pmar1 (and potentially PlHbox12) are orthologous.