The mesodermal region in Drosophila is determined by a maternally derived morphogenetic gradient system which specifies the different cell fates along the dorsoventral axis, including the prospective mesodermal cells at the ventral side of the embryo. There are at least two zygotic target genes, twist and snail, which are required for mesoderm formation in Drosophila. To analyze whether a similar mode of mesoderm specification might also apply to short germ band insect embryos, we have cloned twist and snail- related gene fragments from the flour beetle Tri-bolium and have analyzed their expression pattern. Both genes are expressed in a ventral stripe at early blastoderm stage, which is restricted to the region of the developing germ rudiment. The cells expressing the two genes are those that invaginate during gastrulation, indicating that the early stages of mesoderm specification are indeed very similar between the two species. Interestingly, both genes are also expressed during germband extension in a subregion of the growth zone of the embryo which forms the mesodermal cells. This suggests that the expression of the two genes is required for mesoderm formation both at early blastoderm stage and during germband elongation until the end of the segmental growth process. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.