The Xenopus DG42 gene is expressed only between the late midblastula and neurulation stages of embryonic development. Recent database searches show that DG42 has striking sequence similarity to the Rhizobium NodC protein. NodC catalyzes the synthesis of chitin oligosaccharides which subsequently are transformed into bacterium-plant root signaling molecules. We find that the DG42 protein made in an in vitro coupled transcription-translation system catalyzes the synthesis of an array of chitin oligosaccharides. The result suggests the intriguing possibility that a bacterium-plant type of "Nod" signaling system may operate during early stages of vertebrate embryonic development and raises issues about the use of chitin synthase inhibitors as fungal-specific drugs.