To identify novel components required for cell division processes in complex eukaryotes, we have undertaken an extensive mutational analysis in the one cell stage Caenorhabditis elegans embryo. The large size and optical properties of this cell permit observation of cell division processes with great detail in live specimens by simple differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy. We have screened an extensive collection of maternal-effect embryonic lethal mutations on chromosome III with time-lapse DIC video microscopy. Using this assay, we have identified 48 mutations in 34 loci which are required for specific cell division processes in the one cell stage embryo. We show that mutations fall into distinct phenotypic classes which correspond, among others, to the processes of pronuclear migration, rotation of centrosomes and associated pronuclei, spindle assembly, chromosome segregation, anaphase spindle positioning, and cytokinesis. We have further analyzed pronuclear migration mutants by indirect immunofluorescence microscopy using antibodies against tubulin and ZYG-9, a centrosomal marker. This analysis revealed that two pronuclear migration loci are required for generating normal microtubule arrays and four for centrosome separation. All 34 loci have been mapped by deficiencies to distinct regions of chromosome III, thus paving the way for their rapid molecular characterization. Our work contributes to establishing the one cell stage C. elegans embryo as a powerful metazoan model system for dissecting cell division processes.