SUMMARY Evolution of solitary or colonial life histories in tunicates is accompanied by dramatic developmental changes that affect morphology and reproduction. We compared vasa expression in a solitary ascidian and a closely related colonial ascidian, in an effort to uncover developmental mechanisms important during the evolution of these contrasting life histories, including the ability to reproduce by budding. In this study, we explored the origin of germ cells in new buds developing by asexual reproduction in a colonial ascidian, Botrylloides violaceus and compared it to the source of germ cells in a solitary ascidian Boltenia villosa. We studied expression by in situ hybridization of vasa, a DEAD box RNA helicase gene found in germ cells across the metazoans. In B. villosa, bv-vasa mRNA was expressed in putative germ cells and oocytes of adult gonads, and was sequestered into a posterior lineage during embryogenesis. In mature colonies of the ascidian B. violaceus, bot-vasa mRNA was expressed in putative spermatogonia, in oocytes of zooids, and in some circulating cells in the zooids and differentiating buds. We propose that expression of vasa in cells other than gonadal germ cells of zooids in a colonial ascidian may serve as a source of germ-line stem cells in the colony.