Poly-ubiquitination of target proteins typically marks them for destruction via the proteasome and provides an essential mechanism for the dynamic control of protein levels. The E1 ubiquitin-activating enzyme lies at the apex of the ubiquitination cascade, and its activity is necessary for all subsequent steps in the reaction. We have isolated a temperature-sensitive mutation in the Caenorhabditis elegans uba-1 gene, which encodes the sole E1 enzyme in this organism. Manipulation of UBA-1 activity at different developmental stages reveals a variety of functions for ubiquitination, including novel roles in sperm fertility, control of body size, and sex-specific development. Levels of ubiquitin conjugates are substantially reduced in the mutant, consistent with reduced E1 activity. The uba-1 mutation causes delays in meiotic progression in the early embryo, a process that is known to be regulated by ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis. The uba-1 mutation also demonstrates synthetic lethal interactions with alleles of the anaphase-promoting complex, an E3 ubiquitin ligase. The uba-1 mutation provides a sensitized genetic background for identifying new in vivo functions for downstream components of the ubiquitin enzyme cascade, and it is one of the first conditional mutations reported for the essential E1 enzyme in a metazoan animal model.