A Kluyveromyces lactis chromosomal sequence of 913 bp is sufficient for replication in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and K. lactis. This fragment contains a 12 bp sequence 5'-ATTTATTGTTTT-3' that is related to the S. cerevisiae ACS (ARS consensus sequence). This dodecamer was removed by site-directed mutagenesis and the effect on K. lactis and S. cerevisiae ARS (autonomous replicating sequence) activity was determined. The dodecamer is essential for S. cerevisiae ARS function but only contributes to K. lactis ARS activity; therefore, its role in K. lactis is unlikely to be the same as that of the essential S. cerevisiae ACS. A 103 bp subclone was found to retain ARS activity in both yeasts, but the plasmid was very unstable in S. cerevisiae. Deletion and linker substitution mutagenesis of this fragment was undertaken to define the DNA sequence required for K. lactis ARS function and to test whether the sequence required for ARS activity in K. lactis and S. cerevisiae coincide. We found a 39 bp core region essential for K. lactis ARS function flanked by sequences that contribute to ARS efficiency. The instability of the plasmid in S. cerevisiae made a fine-structure analysis of the S. cerevisiae ARS element impossible. However, the sequences that promote high-frequency transformation in S. cerevisiae overlap the essential core of the K. lactis ARS element but have different end-points.