Axial organisers, embryonic regions that induce cell fate and establish body axes during development, have been identified in various metazoans but their evolutionary origins and conservation of function remain unclear. The presence of an axial organiser in annelids (ringed worms) has not previously been confirmed, but now Takashi Shimizu and colleagues provide direct evidence that, in Tubifex tubifex annelids, descendants of a single blastomere of 4-cell embryos can function as axial organisers (see p. 283). The first two cleavages of T. tubifex embryos generate four macromeres (A-D) that subsequently divide to generate micromeres. The researchers show that ablation of the D macromere descendants 2d and 4d can inhibit axial development. Co-transplantation of 2d and 4d into ectopic positions, they report, induces secondary axis formation in host embryos; in these axes, neurectoderm and mesoderm derive from the transplanted micromeres, whereas the endoderm derives from the induced host. These studies identify D quadrant micromeres as annelid axial organisers, informing future studies of axial organiser conservation and evolution.