By the late 1980s, the basic biochemistry of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation had already been elucidated by studies that used reticulocyte lysates. However, the scope and biological functions of this system remained largely obscure. Therefore, I became interested at that time in the mechanisms by which mitotic cyclins are degraded in exit from mitosis. Using a cell-free system from clam oocytes that faithfully reproduced cell cycle stage-specific degradation of cyclins, we identified in 1995 a large ubiquitin ligase complex that targets mitotic cyclins for degradation. Subsequent studies in many laboratories showed that this ubiquitin ligase, now called the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome, has centrally important roles in many aspects of cell cycle control.