Cells are blessed with a group of stress protector molecules known as heat shock proteins (HSPs), amongst them HSP70, encoded by HSPA-1A gene, is most abundant and highly conserved protein. Variety of stresses hampers the developmental competence of embryos under in vivo and in vitro conditions. Present work was designed to study the quantitative expression of HSPA-1A mRNA in immature oocytes (IMO), matured oocytes (MO), in vitro produced (IVP) and in vivo-derived (IVD) buffalo embryos to assess the level of stress to which embryos are exposed under in vivo and in vitro culture conditions. Further, HSPA-1A gene sequence was analysed to determine its homology with other mammalian sequences. The mRNA expression analysis was carried out on 72 oocytes (40 IMO; 32 MO), 76 IVP and 55 IVD buffalo embryos. Expression of HSPA-1A was found in oocytes and throughout the developmental stages of embryos examined irrespective of the embryo source; however, higher (p < 0.05) expression was observed in 8–16 cell, morula and blastocyst stages of IVP embryos as compared to IVD embryos. Phylogenetic analysis of bubaline HSPA-1A revealed that it shares 91–98% identity with other mammalian sequences. It can be concluded that higher level of HSPA-1A mRNA in IVP embryos in comparison with in vivo-derived embryos is an indicator of cellular stress in IVP system. This study suggests need for further optimization of in vitro culture system in which HSPA-1A gene could be used as a stress biomarker during pre-implantation development.