DesA3 (Rv3229c) from Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a membrane-bound stearoyl coenzyme A Delta(9) desaturase that reacts with the oxidoreductase Rv3230c to produce oleic acid. This work provides evidence for a mechanism used by mycobacteria to regulate this essential enzyme activity. DesA3 expressed as a fusion with either a C-terminal His(6) or c-myc tag had consistently higher activity and stability than native DesA3 having the native C-terminal sequence of LAA, which apparently serves as a binding determinant for a mycobacterial protease/degradation system directed at DesA3. Fusion of only the last 12 residues of native DesA3 to the C terminus of green fluorescent protein (GFP) was sufficient to make GFP unstable. Furthermore, the comparable C-terminal sequence from the Mycobacterium smegmatis DesA3 homolog Msmeg_1886 also conferred instability to the GFP fusion. Systematic examination revealed that residues with charged side chains, large nonpolar side chains, or no side chain at the last two positions were most important for stabilizing the construct, while lesser effects were observed at the third-from-last position. Using these rules, a combinational substitution of the last three residues of DesA3 showed that either DKD or LEA gave the best enhancement of stability for the modified GFP in M. smegmatis. Moreover, upon mutagenesis of LAA at the C terminus in native DesA3 to either of these tripeptides, the modified enzyme had enhanced catalytic activity and stability. Since many proteases are conserved within bacterial families, it is reasonable that M. tuberculosis will use a similar C-terminal degradation system to posttranslationally regulate the activity of DesA3 and other proteins. Application of these rules to the M. tuberculosis genome revealed that approximately 10% the proteins encoded by essential genes may be susceptible to C-terminal proteolysis. Among these, an annotation is known for less than half, underscoring a general lack of understanding of proteins that have only temporal existence in a cell.