A systematic search in the available scaffolds of the Strongylocentrotus purpuratus genome has revealed that this sea urchin has 11 members of the ets gene family. A phylogenetic analysis of these genes showed that almost all vertebrate ets subfamilies, with the exception of one, so far found only in mammals, are each represented by one orthologous sea urchin gene. The temporal and spatial expression of the identified ETS factors was also analyzed during embryogenesis. Five ets genes (Sp-Ets1/2, Sp-Tel, Sp-Pea, Sp-Ets4, Sp-Erf) are also maternally expressed. Three genes (Sp-Elk, Sp-Elf, Sp-Erf) are ubiquitously expressed during embryogenesis, while two others (Sp-Gabp, Sp-Pu.1) are not transcribed until late larval stages. Remarkably, five of the nine sea urchin ets genes expressed during embryogenesis are exclusively (Sp-Ets1/2, Sp-Erg, Sp-Ese) or additionally (Sp-Tel, Sp-Pea) expressed in mesenchyme cells and/or their progenitors. Functional analysis of Sp-Ets1/2 has previously demonstrated an essential role of this gene in the specification of the skeletogenic mesenchyme lineage. The dynamic, and in some cases overlapping and/or unique, developmental expression pattern of the latter five genes suggests a complex, non-redundant function for ETS factors in sea urchin mesenchyme formation and differentiation.