With the completion of the sequence of the first bacterial genomes, scientists have been able to address the question: How many genes are required for cell viability? In attempting to reply to this question, the concept of the minimal gene set was developed and validated by systematic gene disruption. In a similar manner, whole genome comparisons and systematic Knock-Out have been performed in eukaryotes and have led to the identification to date of the set of essential genes in yeast and C. elegans. In the plant kingdom, the sequence of the Arabidopsis genome together with large-scale functional genomics programs now allow us to address the question of essentiality in Arabidopsis. These concerted efforts have resulted in the identification to date of up to 219 genes essential for seed development (EMBRYO-DEFECTIVE, EMB, genes). With this basic knowledge, we can start a valid comparison of essentiality in Arabidopsis and in other eukaryotes based on functional categories and orthologous relationships. Furthermore, the function of the EMB genes in the particular context of eukaryote evolution driven by whole genome duplications and selective gene loss will be discussed.