As a step towards comprehensive functional analysis of genomes, systematic gene knockout projects have been initiated in several organisms . In metazoans like C. elegans, however, maternal contribution can mask the effects of gene knockouts on embryogenesis. RNA interference (RNAi) provides an alternative rapid approach to obtain loss-of-function information that can also reveal embryonic roles for the genes targeted [2,3]. We have used RNAi to analyze a random set of ovarian transcripts and have identified 81 genes with essential roles in embryogenesis. Surprisingly, none of them maps on the X chromosome. Of these 81 genes, 68 showed defects before the eight-cell stage and could be grouped into ten phenotypic classes. To archive and distribute these data we have developed a database system directly linked to the C. elegans database (Wormbase). We conclude that screening cDNA libraries by RNAi is an efficient way of obtaining in vivo function for a large group of genes. Furthermore, this approach is directly applicable to other organisms sensitive to RNAi and whose genomes have not yet been sequenced.