To establish reliable criteria for the evaluation of nuclear donor embryos, we studied the effect of cell number and cell size of in vitro produced day 6 donor morulae on the rate of blastocyst formation following nuclear transfer to in vitro matured oocytes. In experiment 1, donor embryos were divided into three groups with low (25-34), intermediate (40-55), and high (60-81) blastomere numbers. Transfer of nuclei from day 6 morulae with intermediate and high cell numbers resulted in a significantly higher blastocyst rate (31% and 32%, respectively) than use of nuclei from day 6 morulae with low cell numbers (17%) or nuclei from day 7 morulae with 50-83 blastomeres (19%). This suggests that blastomeres from the developmentally advanced day 6 morulae are more viable than blastomeres from retarded embryos. In experiment 2, we evaluated the effect of blastomere size in day 6 donor morulae with intermediate (40-55) or high (60-81) cell numbers on the efficiency of nuclear transfer. In both classes of embryos, small blastomeres were better nuclear donors than large blastomeres. The rates of development to the blastocyst stage were 28% versus 15% (40-55 cells) and 41% versus 25% (60-81 cells), suggesting that small blastomeres include a higher proportion of totipotent cells than the polarized large blastomeres. Our results demonstrate that blastomere number and size markedly affect the efficiency of nuclear transfer and therefore are useful criteria for evaluating nuclear donor embryos. These parameters are easy to determine and may therefore be helpful to improve the efficiency of cattle cloning. (C) 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.