Genetic analysis previously suggested that the let-60 gene controls the switch between vulval and hypodermal cell fates during C. elegans vulval induction. We have cloned the let-60 gene, and shown that it encodes a gene product identical in 84% of its first 164 amino acids to ras gene products from other vertebrate and invertebrate species. This conservation suggests that the let-60 product contains all the biochemical functions of ras proteins. Extrachromosomal arrays of let-60 ras DNA cause cell-type misspecification (extra vulval fates) phenotypically opposite to that caused by let-60 ras loss-of-function mutations (no vulval fates), and suppress the vulvaless phenotype of mutations in two other genes necessary for vulval induction. Thus, the level and pattern of let-60 ras expression may be under strict regulation; increase in let-60 ras activity bypasses or reduces the need for upstream genes in the vulval induction pathway.