Model genetics and genomics have been developed as tools for studying the third largest family of flowering plants, the Leguminosae, which includes important crop plants. Functional genomics strategies for the global analysis of gene expression, the elucidation of pathways and reverse genetics are established. These approaches provide new possibilities for investigating rhizobial as well as mycorrhizal endosymbiosis. Plant genes with central functions in these mutualistic interactions have been identified by positional cloning and gene tagging. With progress in Lotus japonicus genome sequencing, which was recently initiated by Japanese researchers, comparative genomics will contribute to our understanding of symbiosis, pathogenesis and the evolution of plant genomes.