In Drosophila, a Bcd protein gradient orchestrates patterning along the anteroposterior embryonic axis. However, studies of basal flies and other insects have revealed that bcd is a derived Hox3 gene found only in higher dipterans. To understand how bcd acquired its role in flies and how anteroposterior patterning mechanisms have evolved, I first review key features of bcd function in Drosophila: anterior localization and transcriptional and translation control of gene expression. I then discuss investigations of bcd in other higher dipterans that have provided insight into the evolution of regulatory interactions and the Bcd gradient. Finally, I review studies of Drosophila and other insects that address the evolution of bcd function and integration of bcd into ancestral regulatory mechanisms. I suggest further comparative studies may allow us to identify the intermediate steps in bcd evolution. This will make bcd a paradigm for the origin and evolution of genes and regulatory networks. BioEssays 27:904–913, 2005. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.