The nature of synthetic genetic interactions involving essential genes (those required for viability) has not been previously examined in a broad and unbiased manner. We crossed yeast strains carrying promoter-replacement alleles for more than half of all essential yeast genes to a panel of 30 different mutants with defects in diverse cellular processes. The resulting genetic network is biased toward interactions between functionally related genes, enabling identification of a previously uncharacterized essential gene (PGA1) required for specific functions of the endoplasmic reticulum. But there are also many interactions between genes with dissimilar functions, suggesting that individual essential genes are required for buffering many cellular processes. The most notable feature of the essential synthetic genetic network is that it has an interaction density five times that of nonessential synthetic genetic networks, indicating that most yeast genetic interactions involve at least one essential gene.