The Drosophila l(2)35Aa gene encodes a UDP-N-acetylgalactosamine: Polypeptide N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase, essential for embryogenesis and development (J. Biol. Chem. 277, 22623-22638; J. Biol. Chem. 277, 22616-22). l(2)35Aa, also known as pgant35A, is a member of a large evolutionarily conserved family of genes encoding polypeptide GalNAc-transferases. Phylogenetic and functional analyses have proposed that subfamilies of orthologous GalNAc-transferase genes are conserved in species, suggesting that they serve distinct functions in vivo. Based on sequence alignments, pgant35A and human GALNT11 are thought to belong to a distinct subfamily. Recent in vitro studies have shown that pgant35A and pgant7, encoding enzymes from different subfamilies, prefer different acceptor substrates, whereas the orthologous pgant35A and human GALNT11 gene products possess, 1) conserved substrate preferences and 2) similar acceptor site preferences in vitro. In line with the in vitro pgant7 studies, we show that l(2)35Aa lethality is not rescued by ectopic pgant7 expression. Remarkably and in contrast to this observation, the human pgant35A ortholog, GALNT11, was shown not to support rescue of the l(2)35Aa lethality. By use of genetic "domain swapping" experiments we demonstrate, that lack of rescue was not caused by inappropriate sub-cellular targeting of functionally active GalNAc-T11. Collectively our results show, that fly embryogenesis specifically requires functional pgant35A, and that the presence of this gene product during fly embryogenesis is functionally distinct from other Drosophila GalNAc-transferase isoforms and from the proposed human ortholog GALNT11.