Mitochondrial biogenesis and activation of both oxidative phosphorylation, as well as transcription and replication of the mitochondrial genome, are key regulatory events in cell differentiation. Mitochondrial DNA transcription and replication are highly dependent on the interaction with nuclear-encoded transcription factors translocated from the nucleus. Using a human embryonic stem cell line, HSF 6, we analyzed the proliferation of mitochondria and the expression of mtDNA-specific transcription factors in undifferentiated, migratory embryonic stem cells and spontaneously derived cardiomyocytes. Mitochondrial proliferation and mtDNA transcription are initiated in human embryonic stem cells as they undergo spontaneous differentiation in culture into beating cardiomyocytes. Undifferentiated, pluripotent human embryonic stem cells have few mitochondria, and, as they differentiate, they polarize to one extremity of the cell and then bipolarize the differentiating cell. The differentiated cell then adopts the cytoplasmic configuration of a somatic cell as evidenced in differentiating cardiomyocytes. Transcription and replication of the extranuclear mitochondrial genome is dependent on nuclear encoded factors exported to the mitochondrion. However, the differentiating cardiomyocytes have reduced or absent levels of these transcription and replication factors, namely mitochondrial transcription factors A, B1, B2, and nuclear respiratory factor 1 and polymerase gamma. Therefore, final embryonic stem cell commitment may be influenced by mitochondrial proliferation and mtDNA transcription. However, it is likely that differentiating cardiomyocytes are in mitochondrial arrest, awaiting commitment to a final cell fate.