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The early embryo is formed by the fusion of two germ cells that must generate not only all of the nonreproductive somatic cell types of its body but also the germ cells for the next generation. Therefore, embryo cells face a crucial decision: whether to develop as germ or soma. How is this fundamental decision made and germ cell fate maintained during development? Studies in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and fruit fly Drosophila identify some of the decision-making strategies, including segregation of a specialized germ plasm and global transcriptional regulation.