Spatial and temporal differences in gene expression in early development result from the interaction of transcription factors with enhancer and silencer sequences in DNA. The evolution of the developmental process thus involves changes in the DNA sequences that bind transcription factors. Here we advocate a non-parametric statistical test-comparing levels of polymorphism and fixed substitutions between species -to look for evidence of adaptive evolution in sequences controlling gene expression. The test is illustrated by DNA sequence changes in the proximal part of the 'zebra' elements in the fushi terazu gene of the Drosophila melanogaster species group, which yield significant evidence for adaptive substitutions. (This is despite highly significant evidence that all parts of the sequence have been subject to strong selective constraint). The test can be applied generally to investigate adaptive evolution in the control of gene expression.