Little is known about gene action in the preimplantation events that initiate mammalian development. Based on cDNA collections made from each stage from egg to blastocyst, 25438 3'-ESTs were derived, and represent 9718 genes, half of them novel. Thus, a considerable fraction of mammalian genes is dedicated to embryonic expression. This study reveals profound changes in gene expression that include the transient induction of transcripts at each stage. These results raise the possibility that development is driven by the action of a series of stage-specific expressed genes. The new genes, 798 of them placed on the mouse genetic map, provide entry points for analyses of human and mouse developmental disorders.