CAL1 is the Drosophila CENP-A assembly factor.
Centromeres are specified epigenetically by the incorporation of the histone H3 variant CENP-A. In humans, amphibians, and fungi, CENP-A is deposited at centromeres by the HJURP/Scm3 family of assembly factors, but homologues of these chaperones are absent from a number of major eukaryotic lineages such as insects, fish, nematodes, and plants. In Drosophila, centromeric deposition of CENP-A requires the fly-specific protein CAL1. Here, we show that targeting CAL1 to noncentromeric DNA in Drosophila cells is sufficient to heritably recruit CENP-A, kinetochore proteins, and microtubule attachments. CAL1 selectively interacts with CENP-A and is sufficient to assemble CENP-A nucleosomes that display properties consistent with left-handed octamers. The CENP-A assembly activity of CAL1 resides within an N-terminal domain, whereas the C terminus mediates centromere recognition through an interaction with CENP-C. Collectively, this work identifies the "missing" CENP-A chaperone in flies, revealing fundamental conservation between insect and vertebrate centromere-specification mechanisms.