The myoD family of DNA binding proteins has been implicated in the control of myogenesis in a variety of organisms. Searches for homologs in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans yielded only one gene, designated hlh-1, expressed in body-wall muscle cells and their precursors. To assess the role of hlh-1 in C. elegans myogenesis, genetic deficiencies spanning the hlh-1 locus were isolated after gamma irradiation. Embryos homozygous for these deficiencies exhibited extensive body-wall muscle differentiation, including expression of several characteristic myofilament proteins and weak contracile behavior. Thus, zygotic hlh-1 expression was not required for body-wall muscle precursors to adopt muscle cell fates.