Plants use receptor-like kinases (RLKs) to transduce extracellular signals into the cell. Recent advancements in RLK research include the cloning of the BRASSINOSTEROID INSENSITIVE 1 and CLAVATA 1 genes, revealing RLK roles in development. Our understanding of RLK function has also been broadened by transgenic approaches in the study of the RLKs pollen receptor kinase 1, and wall associated kinase 1. These results extend the observations that RLKs function in developmental processes and plant defense responses. Additionally, expression based studies suggest roles for other newly reported RLKs in development and light responses. Taken together, the studies confirm the importance of RLKs in diverse plant processes, yet major challenges remain. These include identifying ligands that activate RLKs and characterizing downstream pathways. These challenges can be conquered by coordinated efforts from investigators using molecular, genetic, and biochemical approaches.