We report a developmental and genetic analysis of the X-linked vital locus l(1)EC7 in Drosophila melanogaster. The locus maps in the salivary band region 1B4-5 to 1B8-9, a part of the X chromosome previously shown to be essential for normal neural development. Certain mutant alleles at the locus can cause embryonic lethality, indicating that the function provided by the gene is essential during embryogenesis. A developmental analysis of gynandromorphic genetic mosaics shows that: (1) the gene function is autonomously essential in the eye; (2) the gene function is essential for normal development of the optic lobes; and (3) the gene function is not necessary in most major imaginal-disc cell derivatives with the exception of the eye disc. Conclusions from the developmental analysis of a temperature sensitive allele are consistent with those from the mosaic analysis. The embryonic lethality caused by the mutant alleles and abnormalities observed in the genetic mosaics have led us to rename the locus l(1)EC7 to elav (embryonic lethal, abnormal visual system).