The preferential absorption of near infrared light by blood makes photoacoustic imaging well suited to visualising vascular structures in soft tissue. In addition, the spectroscopic specificity of tissue chromophores can be exploited by acquiring images at multiple excitation wavelengths. This allows the quantification of endogenous chromophores, such as oxy- and deoxyhaemoglobin, and hence blood oxygenation, and the detection of exogenous chromophores, such as functionalised contrast agents. More importantly, this approach has the potential to visualise the spatial distribution of low concentrations of functionalised contrast agents against the strong background absorption of the endogenous chromophores. This has a large number of applications in the life sciences. One example is the structural and functional phenotyping of transgenic mice for the study of the genetic origins of vascular malformations, such as heart defects. In this study, photoacoustic images of mouse embryos have been acquired to study the development of the vasculature following specific genetic knockouts.© (2010) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.