The phylum Cnidaria is the closest outgroup to the triploblastic metazoans and as such offers unique insights into evolutionary questions at several levels. In the post-genomic era, a knowledge of the gene complement of representative cnidarians will be important for understanding the relationship between the expansion of gene families and the evolution of morphological complexity among more highly evolved metazoans. Studies of cnidarian development and its molecular control will provide information about the origins of the major bilaterian body axes, the origin of the third tissue layer, the mesoderm, and the evolution of nervous system patterning. We are studying the cnidarian Acropora millepora, a reef building scleractinian coral, and a member of the basal cnidarian class, the Anthozoa. We review ourwork on descriptive embryology and studies of selected transcription factor gene families, where our knowledge from Acropora is particularly advanced relative to other cnidarians. We also describe a recent preliminary whole genome initiative, a coral EST database.