The ability to isolate gene sequences and analyse their expression patterns has generated demand for mutations created to assess their biological functions. In Drosophila melanogaster this can be achieved by traditional mutagenesis, but this is time-consuming, labour-intensive and not always successful. Moreover, the functions of genes that are expressed several times during development are often obscured in the later stages because of disruptions caused by the absence of early gene function. Here we propose a new strategy to create conditional knock-out mutations using a targeted heat-inducible ribozyme. Ribozymes are catalytic RNA molecules that specifically cleave RNAs and are potentially useful for studying gene function during animal development because the expression of critical regulatory genes is usually low and their function is often dosage-dependent. The ribozyme can be delivered to a specific region or at a particular developmental stage using a region-specific or inducible promoter. The Drosophila fushi tarazu (ftz) gene is a good candidate for testing this approach. We generated transgenic flies carrying a ribozyme against the ftz gene. The two developmental phases of ftz function can be distinguished by timed induction of the ribozyme. Activation of the ribozyme in the blastoderm disrupts the ftz seven-stripe pattern and produces ftz-like pair-rule defects in larvae. The involvement of ftz in neurogenesis was verified by activation of the ribozyme during the early phase of formation of the central nervous system.