We have isolated five Chinese hamster ovary cell mutants defective in galactosyltransferase I (UDP-D-galactose:xylose beta-1,4-D-galactosyltransferase) and studied the effect of p-nitrophenyl-beta-D-xyloside supplementation on glycosaminoglycan biosynthesis in the mutant cells. Assays of galactosyltransferase I showed that the mutants contained less than 2% of the enzyme activity present in wild-type cells, and enzyme activity was additive in mixtures of mutant and wild-type cell extracts, suggesting that the mutations most likely defined the structural gene encoding the enzyme. Cell hybridization studies showed that the mutations in all five strains were recessive and that the mutants belonged to the same complementation group. The mutants contained wild-type levels of xylosyltransferase (UDP-D-xylose:core protein (serine) beta-D-xylosyltransferase), lactose synthase (UDP-D-galactose:N-acetyl-glucosaminide beta-1,4-D-galactosyltransferase), and lactosylceramide synthase (UDP-D-galactose:glucosylceramide beta-1,4-D-galactosyltransferase). Their sensitivity to lectin-mediated cytotoxicity was virtually identical to that of the wild-type, indicating that there were no gross alterations in glycoprotein or glycolipid compositions. Anion-exchange high performance liquid chromatography of 35S-glycosaminoglycans from one of the galactosyltransferase I-deficient mutants showed a dramatic reduction in both heparan sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, demonstrating that galactosyltransferase I is responsible for the formation of both glycosaminoglycans in intact cells. Surprisingly, the addition of 1 mM-p-nitrophenyl-beta-D-xyloside, a substrate for galactosyltransferase I, restored glycosaminoglycan synthesis in mutant cells. This finding suggested that another galactosyltransferase, possibly lactose synthase, can transfer galactose to xylose in intact cells.