We report the isolation of a Xenopus BMP receptor that is expressed maternally in the appropriate location to play a role in mesoderm induction. This receptor binds both BMP-2 and BMP-4 with high affinity. A truncated form of this BMP receptor specifically blocks BMP-4 signaling. Expression of this truncated BMP receptor during embryogenesis converts ventral mesoderm to dorsal mesoderm. Contrary to the popularly held view that ventral is the ground state for all mesoderm, our results suggest that formation of ventral mesoderm requires an active signal and that, in the absence of this ventral signal, dorsal mesoderm is formed.