The in vitro developmental potential of mouse blastocyst-derived embryonic stem cell lines has been investigated. From 3 to 8 days of suspension culture the cells form complex embryoid bodies with endoderm, basal lamina, mesoderm and ectoderm. Many are morphologically similar to embryos of the 6- to 8-day egg-cylinder stage. From 8 to 10 days of culture about half of the embryoid bodies expand into large cystic structures containing alphafoetoprotein and transferrin, thus being analagous to the visceral yolk sac of the postimplantation embryo. Approximately one third of the cystic embryoid bodies develop myocardium and when cultured in the presence of human cord serum, 30 % develop blood islands, thereby exhibiting a high level of organized development at a very high frequency. Furthermore, most embryonic stem cell lines observed exhibit similar characteristics. The in vitro developmental potential of embryonic stem cell lines and the consistency with which the cells express this potential are presented as aspects which open up new approaches to the investigation of embryogenesis.

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