Developmental events in the life-cycle of the sleeping sickness parasite comprise integrated changes in cell morphology, metabolism, gene expression and signalling pathways. In each case these processes differ from the eukaryotic norm. In the past three years, understanding of these developmental processes has progressed from a description of the cytological events of differentiation to a discovery of its underlying molecular controls. With an expanding set of reagents for the identification of distinct parasite life-cycle stages in the tsetse, trypanosome differentiation is being studied from the molecular to the organismal and population level. Interestingly, the new molecular discoveries provide insights into the biology of the parasite in the field.