When life first evolved on Earth, there was little oxygen in the atmosphere. Evolution of antioxidant defences must have been closely associated with the evolution of photosynthesis and of O2-dependent electron transport mechanisms. Studies with mice lacking antioxidant defences confirm the important roles of MnSOD and transferrin in maintaining health, but show that glutathione peroxidase (GPX) and CuZnSOD are not essential for everyday life (at least in mice). Superoxide can be cytotoxic by several mechanisms: one is the formation of hydroxyl radicals. There is good evidence that OH* formation occurs in vivo. Other important antioxidants may include thioredoxin, and selenoproteins other than GPX. Nitric oxide may be an important antioxidant in the vascular system. Diet-derived antioxidants are important in maintaining human health, but recent studies employing "biomarkers" of oxidative DNA damage are questioning the "antioxidant" roles of beta-carotene and ascorbate. An important area of future research will be elucidation of the reasons why levels of steady-state oxidative damage to DNA and lipids vary so much between individuals, and their predictive value for the later development of human disease.