In mammals, germ cells derive from the pluripotent cells that are present early in embryogenesis, and then differentiate into male sperm or female eggs as development proceeds. Fusion between an egg and a sperm at fertilization allows genetic information from both parents to be transmitted to the next generation, and produces a pluripotent zygote to initiate the next round of embryogenesis. Meiosis is a central event in this self-perpetuating cycle that creates genetic diversity by generating new combinations of existing genetic alleles, and halves the number of chromosomes in the developing male and female germ cells to allow chromosome number to be maintained through successive generations. The developing germ cells also help to maintain genetic and chromosomal stability through the generations by protecting the genome from excessive de novo mutation. Several mouse mutants have recently been characterised whose germ cells exhibit defects in silencing the potentially mutagenic endogenous retroviruses and other retrotransposons that are prevalent in mammalian genomes, and these germ cells also exhibit defects in progression through meiosis. Here we review how mouse germ cells develop and proceed through meiosis, how mouse germ cells silence endogenous retroviruses and other retrotransposons, and discuss why silencing of endogenous retroviruses and other retrotransposons may be required for meiotic progression in mice. (C) 2009 International Society of Differentiation. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.