Background: In chordates, retinoid metabolism is an important target of short-chain dehydrogenases/reductases (SDRs). It is not known whether SDRs play a role in retinoid metabolism of protostomes, such as Drosophila melanogaster. Methods: Drosophila genome was searched for genes encoding proteins with ∼ 50% identity to human retinol dehydrogenase 12 (RDH12). The corresponding proteins were expressed in Sf9 cells and biochemically characterized. Their phylogenetic relationships were analyzed using PHYLIP software. Results: A total of six Drosophila SDR genes were identified. Five of these genes are clustered on chromosome 2 and one is located on chromosome X. The deduced proteins are 300 to 406 amino acids long and are associated with microsomal membranes. They recognize all-trans-retinaldehyde and all-trans-3-hydroxyretinaldehyde as substrates and prefer NADPH as a cofactor. Phylogenetically, Drosophila SDRs belong to the same branch of the SDR superfamily as human RDH12, indicating a common ancestry early in bilaterian evolution, before a protostome-deuterostome split. Conclusions: Similarities in the substrate and cofactor specificities of Drosophila versus human SDRs suggest conservation of their function in retinoid metabolism throughout protostome and deuterostome phyla. General significance: The discovery of Drosophila retinaldehyde reductases sheds new light on the conversion of β-carotene and zeaxantine to visual pigment and provides a better understanding of the evolutionary roots of retinoid-active SDRs. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.