Ectocarpus is a genus of filamentous, marine brown algae. Brown algae belong to the stramenopiles, a large supergroup of organisms that are only distantly related to animals, land plants and fungi. Brown algae are also one of only a small number of eukaryotic lineages that have evolved complex multicellularity. For many years, little information was available concerning the molecular mechanisms underlying multicellular development in the brown algae, but this situation has changed with the emergence of Ectocarpus as a model brown alga. Ectocarpus is amenable to the genomic and genetic approaches that have proved to be so powerful in more classical model organisms such as Drosophila and Arabidopsis.