In the Drosophila CNS, both neurons and glial are derived from neuroblasts. We have identified a gene, glial cells missing (gcm), that encodes a novel nuclear protein expressed transiently in early glial cells. Its mutation causes presumptive glial cells to differentiate into neurons, whereas its ectopic expression forces virtually all CNS cells to become glial cells. Thus, gcm functions as a binary switch that turns on glial fate while inhibiting default neuronal fate of the neuroblasts and their progeny. Similar results are also obtained in the PNS. Analyses of the mutant revealed that "pioneer neurons" can find correct pathways without glial cells and that neurons and glia have a common molecular basis for individual identity.