The p53 tumor suppressor orchestrates a number of important genes involved in cell-cycle control and apoptosis. Mice deficient for p53 show a high incidence of cancer but are developmentally normal suggesting that compensatory mechanisms exist in embryogenesis and differentiation. The new KET protein is the first mammalian protein with strong homology to p53 in all evolutionary conserved regions. This conservation makes a functional redundancy of the two proteins in cell-cycle control possible. KET is expressed during embryonic development and in certain adult tissues. Among all of the known p53 proteins of different species KET is most closely related to that found in squid. The relationship between KET and the invertebrate p53 protein sheds light on the evolutionary origin of p53. KET appears to be an ancestral p53-related protein in vertebrates with a possible role in development and differentiation while the ubiquitously expressed p53 protein attained its general role as 'guardian of the genome' during evolution.