There is considerable information about the genetic control of the processes by which mycelial Streptomyces bacteria form spore-bearing aerial hyphae. The recent acquisition of genome sequences for 16 species of actinobacteria, including two streptomycetes, makes it possible to try to reconstruct the evolution of Streptomyces differentiation by a comparative genomic approach, and to place the results in the context of current views on the evolution of bacteria. Most of the developmental genes evaluated are found only in actinobacteria that form sporulating aerial hyphae, with several being peculiar to streptomycetes. Only four (whiA, whiB, whiD, crgA) are generally present in nondifferentiating actinobacteria, and only two (whiA, whiG) are found in other bacteria, where they are widespread. Thus, the evolution of Streptomyces development has probably involved the stepwise acquisition of laterally transferred DNA, each successive acquisition giving rise either to regulatory changes that affect the conditions under which development is initiated, or to changes in cellular structure or morphology.