The Drosophila gene nanos is required for two processes. During oogenesis, nanos function is required for the continued production of egg chambers, and nanos is expressed in the early germarium. During embryogenesis, nanos is required maternally to specify abdominal segmentation. Nanos shares this latter function with nine other genes, collectively known as the posterior group. Of this group, nanos encodes a determinant, and is localized as an RNA to the posterior pole of early embryos. This RNA is translated to form a gradient of nanos protein with highest concentrations at the posterior. Analysis of the distribution of nanos gene products in embryos mutant for posterior group genes shows that eight of these genes are required for localization, but not stability, of the nanos RNA. Embryos mutant for posterior group alleles which produce weak abdominal phenotypes show reduced amounts of localized nanos RNA. This correlation between nanos RNA localization and abdominal phenotype suggests that nanos acts as a localization-dependent posterior determinant. Localization of nanos is not affected by mutations in bicoid or torso, confirming that the three maternal systems of anterior-posterior determination initially act independently. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.