The identification of a gene necessary for the asymmetry of cell division would be an important first step toward understanding how sister cells come to differ in their developmental fates. The lin-17 gene of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an excellent candidate for being such a gene. lin-17 mutations cause several blast cells that normally generate sister cells of two distinct types to generate instead sister cells of the same type. Moreover, lin-17 mutations cause sister cells to be equal in size as well as equivalent in developmental fate, suggesting that lin-17 acts at or prior to the asymmetric cell division. The lin-17 gene product is involved in asymmetric cell divisions in a variety of tissues, indicating that lin-17 functions in a general mechanism for the establishment of cellular asymmetry in parent cells.