Determining the effect of gene deletion is a fundamental approach to understanding gene function. Conventional genetic screens exhibit biases, and genes contributing to a phenotype are often missed. We systematically constructed a nearly complete collection of gene-deletion mutants (96% of annotated open reading frames, or ORFs) of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. DNA sequences dubbed 'molecular bar codes' uniquely identify each strain, enabling their growth to be analysed in parallel and the fitness contribution of each gene to be quantitatively assessed by hybridization to high-density oligonucleotide arrays. We show that previously known and new genes are necessary for optimal growth under six well-studied conditions: high salt, sorbitol, galactose, pH 8, minimal medium and nystatin treatment. Less than 7% of genes that exhibit a significant increase in messenger RNA expression are also required for optimal growth in four of the tested conditions. Our results validate the yeast gene-deletion collection as a valuable resource for functional genomics.