We have screened a Xenopus ovary cDNA library using a synthetic oligonucleotide derived from that part of the inhibin beta A sequence, which is highly conserved within the TGF-beta family. Out of several clones yielding autoradiographic signals four turned out to represent Xenopus counterparts to the human bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP-4). Each two of the four sequences are nearly identical and probably account for different alleles whereas the two pairs showing 5% divergence may have arisen by genome duplication in this tetraploid species. The amino acid sequence of the Xenopus protein is 80% homologous to the human sequence showing no single exchange within the last 100 amino acids at the C-terminus. This region, which constitutes the main part of the mature, biologically active protein, also exhibits substantial homologies to other representatives of the TGF-beta family, especially to the Drosophila DPPC protein. Transfection of COS-1 cells with the Xenopus BMP-4 sequence under control of the CMV-promoter leads to the secretion of a protein which exhibits mesoderm inducing activity when tested with animal cap explants from Xenopus blastula stage embryos.