The role of heat-shock proteins (hsps) in thermotolerance was examined in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. In yeast cells, the major protein responsible for thermotolerance is hsp 100. In cells carrying mutations in the hsp 100 gene, HSP 104, growth is normal at both high and low temperatures, but the ability of cells to survive extreme temperatures is severely impaired. The loss of thermotolerance is apparently due to the absence of the hsp 104 protein itself because, with the exception of the hsp 104 protein, no differences in protein profiles were observed between mutant and wild-type cells. Aggregates found in mutant cells at high temperatures suggest that the cause of death may be the accumulation of denatured proteins. No differences in the rates of protein degradation were observed between mutant and wild-type cells. This, and genetic analysis of cells carrying multiple hsp 70 and hsp 104 mutations, suggests that the primary function of hsp 104 is to rescue proteins from denaturation rather than to degrade them once they have been denatured. Drosophila cells do not produce a protein in the hsp 100 class in response to high temperatures. In this organism, hsp 70 appears to be the primary protein involved in thermotolerance. Thus, the relative importance of different hsps in thermotolerance changes from organism to organism.