The cellular stress response is a universal mechanism of extraordinary physiological/pathophysiological significance. It represents a defense reaction of cells to damage that environmental forces inflict on macromolecules. Many aspects of the cellular stress response are not stressor specific because cells monitor stress based on macromolecular damage without regard to the type of stress that causes such damage. Cellular mechanisms activated by DNA damage and protein damage are interconnected and share common elements. Other cellular responses directed at re-establishing homeostasis are stressor specific and often activated in parallel to the cellular stress response. All organisms have stress proteins, and universally conserved stress proteins can be regarded as the minimal stress proteome. Functional analysis of the minimal stress proteome yields information about key aspects of the cellular stress response, including physiological mechanisms of sensing membrane lipid, protein, and DNA damage; redox sensing and regulation; cell cycle control; macromolecular stabilization/repair; and control of energy metabolism. In addition, cells can quantify stress and activate a death program (apoptosis) when tolerance limits are exceeded.