In mammalian cells, the signal recognition particle (SRP) receptor is required for the targeting of nascent secretory proteins to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane. We have identified the Saccharomyces cerevisiae homologue of the alpha-subunit of the SRP receptor (SR alpha) and characterized its function in vivo. S. cerevisiae SR alpha is a 69-kDa peripheral membrane protein that is 32% identical (54% chemically similar) to its mammalian homologue and, like mammalian SR alpha, is predicted to contain a GTP binding domain. Yeast cells that contain the SR alpha gene (SRP101) under control of the GAL1 promoter show impaired translocation of soluble and membrane proteins across the ER membrane after depletion of SR alpha. The degree of the translocation defect varies for different proteins. The defects are similar to those observed in SRP deficient cells. Disruption of the SRP101 gene results in an approximately sixfold reduction in the growth rate of the cells. Disruption of the gene encoding SRP RNA (SCR1) or both SCR1 and SRP101 resulted in an indistinguishable growth phenotype, indicating that SRP receptor and SRP function in the same pathway. Taken together, these results suggest that the components and the mechanism of the SRP-dependent protein targeting pathway are evolutionarily conserved yet not essential for cell growth. Surprisingly, cells that are grown for a prolonged time in the absence of SRP or SRP receptor no longer show pronounced protein translocation defects. This adaptation is a physiological process and is not due to the accumulation of a suppressor mutation. The degree of this adaptation is strain dependent.