Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, occurs throughout the course of normal development in most animals and can also be elicited by a number of stimuli such as growth factor deprivation and viral infection. Certain morphological and biochemical characteristics of programmed cell death are similar among different tissues and species. During development of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a single genetic pathway promotes the death of selected cells in a lineally fixed pattern. This pathway appears to be conserved among animal species. The baculovirus p35-encoding gene (p35) is an inhibitor of virus-induced apoptosis in insect cells. Here we demonstrate that expression of p35 in C. elegans prevents death of cells normally programmed to die. This suppression of developmentally programmed cell death results in appearance of extra surviving cells. Expression of p35 can rescue the embryonic lethality of a mutation in ced-9, an endogenous gene homologous to the mammalian apoptotic suppressor bcl-2, whose absence leads to ectopic cell deaths. These results support the hypothesis that viral infection can activate the same cell death pathway as is used during normal development and suggest that baculovirus p35 may act downstream or independently of ced-9 in this pathway.