Complex asparagine (N)-linked oligosaccharides appear late in phylogeny and are highly regulated in vertebrates. Variations in these structures are found on the majority of cell-surface and secreted proteins. Complex N-linked oligosaccharide biosynthesis is initiated in the Golgi apparatus by the action of Mgat-1-encoded UDP-N-acetylglucosamine:alpha-3-D- mannoside beta-1,2-N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase I (GlcNAc-TI). To determine if these structures govern ontogenic processes in mammals, mouse embryos were generated that lacked a functional Mgat-1 gene. Inactivation of both Mgat-1 alleles produced deficiencies in GlcNAc-TI activity and complex N-linked oligosaccharides. Embryonic lethality occurred by day 10.5, thus establishing that complex N-linked oligosaccharides are required during post-implantation development. Remarkably, embryonic development proceeded into day 9 with the differentiation of multiple cell types. Complex N-linked oligosaccharides are important for morphogenic processes as neural tube formation, vascularization and the determination of left-right body plan asymmetry were impaired in the absence of a functional Mgat-1 gene.