Expression profiling of stem cells is challenging due to their small numbers and heterogeneity. The PCR colony (polony) approach has theoretical advantages as an assay for stem cells but has not been applied to small numbers of cells. An assay has been developed that is sensitive enough to detect mRNAs from small numbers of ES cells and from fractions of a single mouse blastocyst. Genes assayed include Oct3, Rex1, Nanog, Cdx2 and GLUT-1. The assay is highly sensitive so that multiple mRNAs from a single blastocyst were easily detected in the same assay. In its present version, the assay is an attractive alternative to conventional RT-PCR for profiling small populations of stem cells. The assay is also amenable to improvements that will increase its sensitivity and ability to analyze many cDNAs simultaneously.