The central gene cluster of chromosome III was one of the first regions to be sequenced by the Caenorhabditis elegans genome project. We have performed an essential gene analysis on the left part of this cluster, in the region around dpy-17III balanced by the duplication sDp3. We isolated 151 essential gene mutations and characterized them with regard to their arrest stages. To facilitate positioning of these mutations, we generated six new deficiencies that, together with preexisting chromosomal rearrangements, subdivide the region into 14 zones. The 151 mutations were mapped into these zones. They define 112 genes, of which 110 were previously unidentified. Thirteen of the zones have been anchored to the physical sequence by polymerase chain reaction deficiency mapping. Of the 112 essential genes mapped, 105 are within these 13 zones. They span 4.2 Mb of nucleotide sequence. From the nucleotide sequence data, 920 genes are predicted. From a Poisson distribution of our mutations, we predict that 234 of the genes will be essential genes. Thus, the 105 genes constitute 45% of the estimated number of essential genes in the physically defined zones and between 2 and 5% of all essential genes in C. elegans.