Circadian rhythms are found in most eukaryotes and some prokaryotes. The mechanism by which organisms maintain these roughly 24-h rhythms in the absence of environmental stimuli has long been a mystery and has recently been the subject of intense research. In the past few years, we have seen explosive progress in the understanding of the molecular basis of circadian rhythms in model systems ranging from cyanobacteria to mammals. This review attempts to outline these primarily genetic and biochemical findings and encompasses work done in cyanobacteria, Neurospora, higher plants, Drosophila, and rodents. Although actual clock components do not seem to be conserved between kingdoms, central clock mechanisms are conserved. Somewhat paradoxically, clock components that are conserved between species can be used in diverse ways. The different uses of common components may reflect the important role that the circadian clock plays in adaptation of species to particular environmental niches.