To generate the variety of mature neurons and glia found in the developing retina, the competence of pluripotent progenitor cells to respond to extracellular signals must be controlled. Delta, a ligand of the Notch receptor, is a candidate for regulating progenitor competence on the grounds that activation of the pathway involving Notch and Delta can inhibit cellular differentiation. Here we test this possibility in the developing Xenopus retina by misexpression of Delta messenger RNA. We find that Delta-misexpressing cells with wild-type neighbours adopt earlier fates, primarily becoming ganglion cells and cone photoreceptors. Progenitors transfected with Delta later in development also produce rod photoreceptors, but not the latest-generated cell types, demonstrating the importance of timing in Delta function. We conclude that Delta signalling in the vertebrate retina is a basic regulatory mechanism that can be used to generate neuronal diversity.