Chromosome segregation at meiosis I depends on pairing and crossing-over between homologs. In most eukaryotes, pairing culminates with formation of the proteinaceous synaptonemal complex (SC). In budding yeast, recombination initiates through double-strand DNA breaks (DSBs) and is thought to be essential for SC formation. Here, we examine whether this mechanism for initiating meiotic recombination is conserved, and we test the dependence of homologous chromosome synapsis on recombination in C. elegans. We find that a homolog of the yeast DSB-generating enzyme, Spo11p, is required for meiotic exchange in this metazoan, and that radiation-induced breaks partially alleviate this dependence. Thus, initiation of recombination by DSBs is apparently conserved. However, homologous synapsis is independent of recombination in the nematode, since it occurs normally in a C. elegans spo-11 null mutant.