We compared the efficiency of retroviral vector (N2)-mediated transfer of the bacterial neomycin resistance gene (NeoR) into adult and fetal hematopoietic progenitors of sheep and humans by assessing their ability to form colonies in the presence of lethal doses of the neomycin analogue G418 in vitro. Fetal cells from both sheep and humans exhibited a higher degree of NeoR transfer than adult cells. The overall level of NeoR expression was significantly higher for sheep than human cells. The transfer/expression of NeoR into adult human bone marrow hematopoietic progenitors was not affected by the presence or absence of T cells and monocyte/macrophages. The efficiency of NeoR transfer into both adult and fetal human cells, however, was improved when transduction was carried out in the presence of recombinant human interleukin-3 and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor. These results demonstrate the greater efficiency of NeoR gene transfer into fetal hematopoietic progenitors, which may provide a basis for the relatively higher efficiency of the in utero approach to gene therapy.