This paper is a review of the current status of technology for mammalian oocyte growth and development in vitro. It compares and contrasts the characteristics of the various culture systems that have been devised for the culture of either isolated preantral follicles or the oocyte-granulosa cell complexes form preantral follicles. The advantages and disadvantages of these various systems are discussed. Endpoints for the evaluation of oocyte development in vitro, including oocyte maturation and embryogenesis, are described. Considerations for the improvement of the culture systems are also presented. These include discussions of the possible effects of apoptosis and inappropriate differentiation of oocyte-associated granulosa cells on oocyte development. Finally, the potential applications of the technology for oocyte growth and development in vitro are discussed. For example, studies of oocyte development in vitro could help to identify specific molecules produced during oocyte development that are essential for normal early embryogenesis and perhaps recognize defects leading to infertility or abnormalities in embryonic development. Moreover, the culture systems may provide the methods necessary to enlarge the populations of valuable agricultural, pharmaceutical product-producing, and endangered animals, and to rescue the oocytes of women about to undergo clinical procedures that place oocytes at risk.