The primary mesenchyme cells (PMCs) of the sea urchin embryo undergo a dramatic sequence of morphogenetic behaviors that culminates in the formation of the larval endoskeleton. Recent studies have identified components of a gene regulatory network that underlies PMC specification and differentiation. In previous work, we identified novel gene products expressed specifically by PMCs (Illies, M.R., Peeler, M.T., Dechtiaruk, A.M., Ettensohn, C.A., 2002. Identification and developmental expression of new biomineralization proteins in the sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Dev. Genes Evol. 212, 419-431). Here, we show that one of these gene products, P16, plays an essential role in skeletogenesis. P16 is not required for PMC specification, ingression, migration, or fusion, but is essential for skeletal rod elongation. We have compared the predicted sequences of P16 from two species and show that this small, acidic protein is highly conserved in both structure and function. The predicted amino acid sequence of P16 and the subcellular localization of a GFP-tagged form of the protein suggest that P16 is enriched in the plasma membrane. It may function to receive signals required for skeletogenesis or may play a more direct role in the deposition of biomineral. Finally, we place P16 downstream of Alx1 in the PMC gene network, thereby linking the network to a specific "effector" protein involved in biomineralization.