In amniotes, all of the tissues of the adult arise from the epiblast, one of the two layers of cells present in the early embryo; the mesoderm and gut endoderm arise from an epiblast-derived structure known as the primitive streak. The monoclonal antibody HNK-1 recognizes the cells of the primitive streak in the chick embryo. Before streak formation, HNK-1 identifies cells that are randomly distributed within the epiblast. We have now used two novel ways to study cell lineage and commitment to show that the epiblast of the early chick embryo contains two distinct populations of cells with different developmental fates at a stage during which 'mesodermal induction' is believed to occur. One cell population, recognized by monoclonal antibody HNK-1, is destined to form mesoderm and endoderm; the rest of the epiblast is unable to give rise to mesoderm if this population of cells is removed.