Embryonic stem (ES) cells have been available from inbred mice since 1981 but have not been validated for other rodents. Failure to establish ES cells from a range of mammals challenges the identity of cultivated stem cells and our understanding of the pluripotent state. Here we investigated derivation of ES cells from the rat. We applied molecularly defined conditions designed to shield the ground state of authentic pluripotency from inductive differentiation stimuli. Undifferentiated cell lines developed that exhibited diagnostic features of ES cells including colonization of multiple tissues in viable chimeras. Definitive ES cell status was established by transmission of the cell line genome to offspring. Derivation of germline-competent ES cells from the rat paves the way to targeted genetic manipulation in this valuable biomedical model species. Rat ES cells will also provide a refined test-bed for functional evaluation of pluripotent stem cell-derived tissue repair and regeneration.