This paper shows stage- and tissue-specific global demethylation and remethylation occurring during embryonic development. The egg genome is strikingly undermethylated and the sperm genome relatively methylated. Following a loss of genomic methylation during preimplantation development, embryonic and extraembryonic lineages are progressively and independently methylated to different final extents. Methylation continues postgastrulation and hence could be a mechanism initiating, or confirming, differential programming in the definitive germ layers. It is proposed that much of the methylation observed in somatic tissues acts to stabilize and reinforce prior events that regulate the activity of specific genes, chromosome domains or the X chromosome (in females). Fetal germ cell DNA is markedly undermethylated and we favour the idea that the germ lineage is set aside before the occurrence of extensive methylation of DNA in fetal precursor cells.