The Arabidopsis zygote divides asymmetrically into an embryonic apical cell and a basal cell with mostly extra-embryonic fate. This fundamental asymmetry sets the stage for further embryonic development, but the events mediating it are poorly understood. We have identified a MAPKK kinase gene, named YODA, that promotes extra-embryonic cell fates in the basal lineage. In loss-of-function mutants, the zygote does not elongate properly, and the cells of the basal lineage are eventually incorporated into the embryo instead of differentiating the extra-embryonic suspensor. Gain-of-function alleles cause exaggerated growth of the suspensor and can suppress embryonic development to a degree where no recognizable proembryo is formed. Our results imply that a MAP kinase cascade acts as a molecular switch promoting extra-embryonic fate.