The cdc21+ gene of Schizosaccharomyces pombe was originally identified in a screen for cdc mutants affecting S phase and nuclear division. Here we show that the cdc21+ gene product belongs to a family of proteins implicated in DNA replication. These include the Saccharomyces cerevisiae MCM2 and MCM3 proteins, which are needed for the efficient function of certain replication origins, and S.cerevisiae CDC46, which is required for the initiation of chromosome replication. The cdc21 mutant is defective in the mitotic maintenance of some plasmids, like mcm2 and mcm3. The mutant arrests with a single nucleus containing two genome equivalents of DNA, and maintains a cytoplasmic microtubular configuration. Activation of most, but not all, replication origins in the mutant may result in failure to replicate a small proportion of the genome, and this could explain the arrest phenotypes. Using the polymerase chain reaction technique, we have identified new cdc21(+)-related genes in S.cerevisiae, S.pombe and Xenopus laevis. Our results suggest that individual members of the cdc21(+)-related family are highly conserved in evolution.