In this study, we aimed to establish if known wnt signaling molecules could be responsible for inducing early pronephros specification, using a novel and effective in vitro bioassay in Xenopus embryos. Anterior somites have the unique biological activity to signal to unspecified intermediate mesoderm to induce pronephros formation in Xenopus embryos. We have used a molecular candidate gene approach to analyze both canonical and noncanonical wnt expression in isolated anterior and posterior somites and dissected presumptive pronephros, pronephric anlagen, and pronephros from stage 12.5–35 embryos. We have identified potential candidate wnt genes expressed in the right time and place to specify pronephric development. These candidates were then directly tested in an in vitro pronephrogenesis assay based on Holtfreter sandwich cultures. Results revealed that noncanonical wnt11b and wnt11 can induce pronephros formation in vitro. Loss-of-function experiments confirmed that these genes are necessary for normal pronephros development. Developmental Dynamics 239:148–159, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.