Genetic programs underlying multicellular morphogenesis and cellular differentiation are most often associated with eukaryotic organisms, but examples also exist in bacteria such as the formation of multicellular, spore-filled fruiting bodies in the order Myxococcales. Most members of the Myxococcales undergo a multicellular developmental program culminating in the formation of spore-filled fruiting bodies in response to starvation. To gain insight into the evolutionary history of fruiting body formation in Myxococcales, we performed a comparative analysis of the genomes and transcriptomes of five Myxococcales species, four of these undergo fruiting body formation (Myxococcus xanthus, Stigmatella aurantiaca, Sorangium cellulosum, and Haliangium ochraceum) and one does not (Anaeromyxobacter dehalogenans). Our analyses show that a set of 95 known M. xanthus development-specific genes--although suffering from a sampling bias--are overrepresented and occur more frequently than an average M. xanthus gene in S. aurantiaca, whereas they occur at the same frequency as an average M. xanthus gene in S. cellulosum and in H. ochraceum and are underrepresented in A. dehalogenans. Moreover, genes for entire signal transduction pathways important for fruiting body formation in M. xanthus are conserved in S. aurantiaca, whereas only a minority of these genes are conserved in A. dehalogenans, S. cellulosum, and H. ochraceum. Likewise, global gene expression profiling of developmentally regulated genes showed that genes that upregulated during development in M. xanthus are overrepresented in S. aurantiaca and slightly underrepresented in A. dehalogenans, S. cellulosum, and H. ochraceum. These comparative analyses strongly indicate that the genetic programs for fruiting body formation in M. xanthus and S. aurantiaca are highly similar and significantly different from the genetic program directing fruiting body formation in S. cellulosum and H. ochraceum. Thus, our analyses reveal an unexpected level of plasticity in the genetic programs for fruiting body formation in the Myxococcales and strongly suggest that the genetic program underlying fruiting body formation in different Myxococcales is not conserved. The evolutionary implications of this finding are discussed.