BACKGROUND: Rotifers are among the most common non-arthropod animals and are the most experimentally tractable members of the basal assemblage of metazoan phyla known as Gnathifera. The monogonont rotifer Brachionus plicatilis is a developing model system for ecotoxicology, aquatic ecology, cryptic speciation, and the evolution of sex, and is an important food source for finfish aquaculture. However, basic knowledge of the genome and transcriptome of any rotifer species has been lacking. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We generated and partially sequenced a cDNA library from B. plicatilis and constructed a database of over 2300 expressed sequence tags corresponding to more than 450 transcripts. About 20% of the transcripts had no significant similarity to database sequences by BLAST; most of these contained open reading frames of significant length but few had recognized Pfam motifs. Sixteen transcripts accounted for 25% of the ESTs; four of these had no significant similarity to BLAST or Pfam databases. Putative up- and downstream untranslated regions are relatively short and AT rich. In contrast to bdelloid rotifers, there was no evidence of a conserved trans-spliced leader sequence among the transcripts and most genes were single-copy. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Despite the small size of this EST project it revealed several important features of the rotifer transcriptome and of individual monogonont genes. Because there is little genomic data for Gnathifera, the transcripts we found with no known function may represent genes that are species-, class-, phylum- or even superphylum-specific; the fact that some are among the most highly expressed indicates their importance. The absence of trans-spliced leader exons in this monogonont species contrasts with their abundance in bdelloid rotifers and indicates that the presence of this phenomenon can vary at the subphylum level. Our EST database provides a relatively large quantity of transcript-level data for B. plicatilis, and more generally of rotifers and other gnathiferan phyla, and can be browsed and searched at gmod.mbl.edu.