Recent advances in the study of the genetics and genomics of urochordates testify to a renewed interest in this chordate subphylum, believed to be the most primitive extant chordate relatives of the vertebrates. In addition to their primitive nature, many features of their reproduction and early development make the urochordates ideal model chordates for developmental genetics. Many urochordates spawn large numbers of transparent and externally developing embryos on a daily basis. Additionally, the embryos have a defined and well–characterized cell lineage until the end of gastrulation. Furthermore, the genomes of the urochordates have been estimated to be only 5–10% of the size of the vertebrates and to have fewer genes and less genetic redundancy than vertebrates. Genetic screens, which are powerful tools for investigating developmental mechanisms, have recently become feasible due to new culturing techniques in ascidians. Because hermaphrodite ascidians are able to self–fertilize, recessive mutations can be detected in a single generation. Several recent studies have demonstrated the feasibility of applying modern genetic techniques to the study of ascidian biology.