In ecdysozoan protostomes, including arthropods and nematodes, transcription factors of the GATA family specify the endoderm: Drosophila dGATAb (ABF/Serpent) and Caenorhabditis elegans END-1 play important roles in generating this primary germ layer. end-1 is the earliest expressed endoderm-specific gene known in C. elegans and appears to initiate the program of gene expression required for endoderm differentiation, including a cascade of GATA factors required for development and maintenance of the intestine. Among vertebrate GATA proteins, the GATA-4/5/6 subfamily regulates aspects of late endoderm development, but a role for GATA factors in establishing the endoderm is unknown. We show here that END-1 binds to the canonical target DNA sequence WGATAR with specificity similar to that of vertebrate GATA-1 and GATA-4, and that it functions as a transcriptional activator. We exploited this activity of END-1 to demonstrate that establishment of the vertebrate endoderm, like that of invertebrate species, also appears to involve GATA transcriptional activity. Like the known vertebrate endoderm regulators Mixer and Sox17, END-1 is a potent activator of endoderm differentiation in isolated Xenopus ectoderm. Moreover, a dominant inhibitory GATA-binding fusion protein abrogates endoderm differentiation in intact embryos. By examining these effects in conjunction with those of Mixer- and Sox17beta-activating and dominant inhibitory constructs, we further establish the likely relationships between GATA activity and these regulators in early development of the vertebrate endoderm. These results suggest that GATA factors may function sequentially to regulate endoderm differentiation in both protostomes and deuterostomes.