The Brachyury (T) gene is required for formation of posterior mesoderm and for axial development in both mouse and zebrafish embryos. In this paper, we first show that the Xenopus homologue of Brachyury, Xbra, and the zebrafish homologue, no tail (ntl), both function as transcription activators. The activation domains of both proteins map to their carboxy terminal regions, and we note that the activation domain is absent in two zebrafish Brachyury mutations, suggesting that it is required for gene function. A dominant-interfering Xbra construct was generated by replacing the activation domain of Xbra with the repressor domain of the Drosophila engrailed protein. Microinjection of RNA encoding this fusion protein allowed us to generate Xenopus and zebrafish embryos which show striking similarities to genetic mutants in mouse and fish. These results indicate that the function of Brachyury during vertebrate gastrulation is to activate transcription of mesoderm-specific genes. Additional experiments show that Xbra transcription activation is required for regulation of Xbra itself in dorsal, but not ventral, mesoderm. The approach described in this paper, in which the DNA-binding domain of a transcription activator is fused to the engrailed repressor domain, should assist in the analysis of other Xenopus and zebrafish transcription factors.