The paternal-effect embryonic-lethal gene, spe-11, is required for normal development of early C. elegans embryos. Spe-11 embryos fail to complete meiosis, form a weak eggshell, fail to orient properly the first mitotic spindle, and fail to undergo cytokinesis. Here we report cloning and sequencing of the spe-11 gene, which encodes a novel protein. As predicted by the paternal-effect mutant phenotype, the gene is expressed during spermatogenesis but is not detectable in females undergoing oogenesis, and the protein is present in mature sperm. To investigate whether SPE-11's essential function is during spermatogenesis or whether sperm-delivered SPE-11 functions in the newly fertilized embryo, we engineered animals to supply SPE-11 to the embryo through the oocyte rather than through the sperm. We found that maternal expression is sufficient for embryonic viability. This result demonstrates that SPE-11 is not required during spermatogenesis, and suggests that SPE-11 is a sperm-supplied factor that participates directly in development of the early embryo. In contrast to the many known maternal factors required for embryogenesis, SPE-11 is the first paternally contributed factor to be genetically identified and molecularly characterized.