Embryonic stem (ES) cells are derived from preimplantation stage mouse embryos at the time when they have reached the blastocyst stage. It is at this point that the first steps of differentiation take place during mammalian embryonic development. The individual blastomeres now start to organize themselves into three distinct locations, each encompassing a different cell type: outside epithelial cells, trophectoderm; cells at the blastocele surface of the inner cell mass (ICM), the primitive endoderm; and inside cells of the ICM, the primitive ectoderm. ES cells originate from the third population, the primitive ectoderm, which is a transiently existing group of cells in the embryo. Primitive ectoderm cells diminish within a day as the embryo is entering into the next steps of differentiation. ES cells, however, while retaining the property of their origin in terms of developmental potential, also have the ability to self-renew. It is hence important to realize that ES cells do not exist in vivo; they should be regarded simply as tissue culture artifact. Nevertheless, these powerful cells have the potential to differentiate into all the cells of the embryo proper and postnatal animal. Furthermore, they retain the limitation of their origin through their inability to contribute to the trophectoderm lineage (the trophoblast of the placenta) and the lineages of the primitive endoderm, the visceral and parietal endoderm. Due to these unique features, we must admit that even if we regard ES cells as products of in vitro culture and should not compare them to true somatic stem cells found in the adult organism, they certainly offer us a fantastic tool for genetic, developmental, and disease studies.