Modification of proteins by the covalent attachment of ubiquitin is known to target them for degradation by proteasomes. Several proteins have been discovered recently that are related to ubiquitin or function similarly. Some of these proteins act as modifiers; others bear ubiquitin-like domains embedded in their polypeptide chain but do not form conjugates with cellular proteins. Ubiquitin-like proteins mediate an impressive range of cellular functions, including cell-cycle progression, DNA repair and apoptosis. Recent discoveries endorse the view that, in many cases, the function of the relatives of ubiquitin is linked to the ubiquitin pathway.