The N-end rule-based degradation signal, which targets a protein for ubiquitin-dependent proteolysis, comprises a destabilizing amino-terminal residue and a specific internal lysine residue. We report the isolation and functional analysis of a gene (UBR1) for the N-end recognizing protein of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. UBR1 encodes a approximately 225 kd protein with no significant sequence similarities to other known proteins. Null ubr1 mutants are viable but are unable to degrade the substrates of the N-end rule pathway. These mutants are partially defective in sporulation and grow slightly more slowly than their wild-type counterparts. The UBR1 protein specifically binds in vitro to proteins bearing amino-terminal residues that are destabilizing according to the N-end rule, but does not bind to otherwise identical proteins bearing stabilizing amino-terminal residues.