In animals and protozoa gene-specific double-stranded RNA triggers the degradation of homologous cellular RNAs, the phenomenon of RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi has been shown to represent a novel paradigm in eukaryotic biology and a powerful method for studying gene function. Here we discuss RNAi in terms of its mechanism, its relationship to other post-transcriptional gene silencing phenomena in plants and fungi, its connection to retroposon silencing and possibly to translation, and its biological role. Among the organisms where RNAi has been demonstrated the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei represents the most ancient branch of the eukaryotic lineage. We provide a synopsis of what is currently known about RNAi in T. brucei and outline the recent advances that make RNAi the method of choice to disrupt gene function in these organisms.