The mechanisms controlling the formation of the embryonic axis, and specifically those that give rise to the mesoderm, have received renewed attention recently. In the frog, some of these mechanisms have begun to be elucidated, and several factors have been found to cause uncommitted ectoderm cells to differentiate into mesoderm. All of the factors identified to date are related either to fibroblast growth factor (FGF) or to transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta). Do the mechanisms that generate the embryonic axis of amphibians also operate in chick and mouse embryos? Here I address how amphibian and amniote embryos might provide complementary pieces of a puzzle.