We have characterised the changes in preimplantation embryos that occur in the mRNA population during the transition from maternal to zygotic control of embryogenesis. We connected the mRNA differential display method and RT-PCR based method that allows amplification of the whole population of messengers. In the early stages of development we have further characterised the level of individual mRNAs with the help of semiquantitative RT-PCR used with specific primers. This report concerns four of 12 cDNA fragments that appeared to be differentially expressed between the 4- and late 8-cell stages. A transcript corresponding to fragment no. 1/12 appears to be analogous to the maternal mRNA since it is abundant in 1-, 2-, 4- and 8-cell embryos and rapidly decreases in the later stages. A similar pattern of expression was revealed in the transcript corresponding to fragment no. 8/9. A transcript corresponding to fragment no. 20/8 is newly synthesised from the embryonic genome at the late 8-cell stage and its amount rapidly increases during the following stages. This messenger shows a 91.7% identity with mRNA for human S3A ribosomal protein and 92.2% identity with mRNA for Felis domesticus S3A ribosomal protein. A transcript corresponding to fragment no. 8/19 is stage-specific, being newly synthesised from an embryonic genome at the late 8-cell stage and decreasing in the later stages. This messenger shows 86.6% identity with a mouse mRNA for proline-rich protein and 91.6% identity with human mRNA for KIAA-0058 gene. A complex of these molecular markers represents a suitable tool for answering questions concerning the molecular control of major gene activation during bovine embryogenesis.