We set out to define patterns of gene expression during kidney organogenesis by using high-density DNA array technology. Expression analysis of 8,740 rat genes revealed five discrete patterns or groups of gene expression during nephrogenesis. Group 1 consisted of genes with very high expression in the early embryonic kidney, many with roles in protein translation and DNA replication. Group 2 consisted of genes that peaked in midembryogenesis and contained many transcripts specifying proteins of the extracellular matrix. Many additional transcripts allied with groups 1 and 2 had known or proposed roles in kidney development and included LIM1, POD1, GFRA1, WT1, BCL2, Homeobox protein A11, timeless, pleiotrophin, HGF, HNF3, BMP4, TGF-alpha, TGF-beta2, IGF-II, met, FGF7, BMP4, and ganglioside-GD3. Group 3 consisted of transcripts that peaked in the neonatal period and contained a number of retrotransposon RNAs. Group 4 contained genes that steadily increased in relative expression levels throughout development, including many genes involved in energy metabolism and transport. Group 5 consisted of genes with relatively low levels of expression throughout embryogenesis but with markedly higher levels in the adult kidney; this group included a heterogeneous mix of transporters, detoxification enzymes, and oxidative stress genes. The data suggest that the embryonic kidney is committed to cellular proliferation and morphogenesis early on, followed sequentially by extracellular matrix deposition and acquisition of markers of terminal differentiation. The neonatal burst of retrotransposon mRNA was unexpected and may play a role in a stress response associated with birth. Custom analytical tools were developed including "The Equalizer" and "eBlot," which contain improved methods for data normalization, significance testing, and data mining.