Here we report the identification and molecular function of the p53 tumor suppressor-like protein nvp63 in a non-bilaterian animal, the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. So far, p53-like proteins had been found in bilaterians only. The evolutionary origin of p53-like proteins is highly disputed and primordial p53-like proteins are variably thought to protect somatic cells from genotoxic stress. Here we show that ultraviolet (UV) irradiation at low levels selectively induces programmed cell death in early gametes but not somatic cells of adult N. vectensis polyps. We demonstrate with RNA interference that nvp63 mediates this cell death in vivo. Nvp63 is the most archaic member of three p53-like proteins found in N. vectensis and in congruence with all known p53-like proteins, nvp63 binds to the vertebrate p53 DNA recognition sequence and activates target gene transcription in vitro. A transactivation inhibitory domain at its C-terminus with high homology to the vertebrate p63 may regulate nvp63 on a molecular level. The genotoxic stress induced and nvp63 mediated apoptosis in N. vectensis gametes reveals an evolutionary ancient germ cell protective pathway which relies on p63-like proteins and is conserved from cnidarians to vertebrates.