One of the first intercellular signalling events in the vertebrate embryo leads to mesoderm formation and axis determination. In the mouse, a gene encoding a new member of the TGF-beta superfamily, nodal, is disrupted in a mutant deficient in mesoderm formation (Zhou et al., 1993, Nature 361, 543). nodal mRNA is found in prestreak mouse embryos, consistent with a role in the development of the dorsal axis. To examine the biological activities of nodal, we have studied the action of this factor in eliciting axis determination in the zebrafish, Danio rerio. Injection of nodal mRNA into zebrafish embryos caused the formation of ectopic axes that included notochord and somites. Axis duplication was preceded by the generation of an apparent ectopic shield (organizer equivalent) in nodal-injected embryos, as indicated by the appearance of a region over-expressing gsc and lim1; isolation and expression in the shield of the lim1 gene is reported here. These results suggest a role for a nodal-like factor in pattern formation in zebrafish.