Embryonic stem (ES) cells hold great promise for the future of medicine. To elucidate the molecular mechanisms that control ES cell self-renewal and differentiation, a comprehensive knowledge of the molecules involved in these processes is required. Here we describe an effective approach for genomewide identification of functionally active genes in ES cells. This approach combines genetic screens based on cDNA libraries with microarray detection methods to permit high-throughput functional analyses. We implement this strategy to identify genes whose overexpression can maintain phenotypic properties of undifferentiated mouse ES cells under differentiation-inducing conditions, specifically in the absence of leukemia inhibitory factor. The identified genes encode a variety of regulatory proteins whose function in ES cells was previously unknown. Moreover, our approach is capable of detecting genes whose overexpression promote differentiation or cell death. Overall, our studies establish a methodology for highly sensitive identification of genes that confer particular phenotypes on ES cells.