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The Saccharomyces cerevisiae SPA2 protein localizes at sites involved in polarized cell growth in budding cells and mating cells. spa2 mutants have defects in projection formation during mating but are healthy during vegetative growth. A synthetic lethal screen was devised to identify mutants that require the SPA2 gene for vegetative growth. One mutant, called slk-1 (for synthetic lethal kinase), has been characterized extensively. The SLK1 gene has been cloned, and sequence analysis predicts that the SLK1 protein is 1,478 amino acid residues in length. Approximately 300 amino acids at the carboxy terminus exhibit sequence similarity with the catalytic domains of protein kinases. Disruption mutations have been constructed in the SLK1 gene. slk1 null mutants cannot grow at 37 degrees C, but many cells can grow at 30, 24, and 17 degrees C. Dead slk1 mutant cells usually have aberrant cell morphologies, and many cells are very small, approximately one-half the diameter of wild-type cells. Surviving slk1 cells also exhibit morphogenic defects; these cells are impaired in their ability to form projections upon exposure to mating pheromones. During vegetative growth, a higher fraction of slk1 cells are unbudded compared with wild-type cells, and under nutrient limiting conditions, slk1 cells exhibit defects in cell cycle arrest. The different slk1 mutant defects are partially rescued by an extra copy of the SSD1/SRK1 gene. SSD1/SRK1 has been independently isolated as a suppressor of mutations in genes involved in growth control, sit4, pde2, bcy1, and ins1 (A. Sutton, D. Immanuel, and K.T. Arnat, Mol. Cell. Biol. 11:2133-2148, 1991; R.B. Wilson, A.A. Brenner, T.B. White, M.J. Engler, J.P. Gaughran, and K. Tatchell, Mol. Cell. Biol. 11:3369-3373, 1991). These data suggest that SLK1 plays a role in both cell morphogenesis and the control of cell growth. We speculate that SLK1 may be a regulatory link for these two cellular processes.