The distribution of [Fe]-hydrogenases was once thought to be limited to a small number of bacteria and a few peculiar hydrogen-producing anaerobic eukaryotes. However, it is now clear that [Fe]-hydrogenases are more widely distributed among eukaryotes than reports of hydrogen production have suggested. Indeed, genes bearing the hallmark signatures of [Fe]-hydrogenases are found both in our own genome and in the genomes of other higher eukaryotes. At present, the functions of most of these new proteins remain unknown; it is not even known whether they can all make hydrogen. Radical new hypotheses have suggested that hydrogenases played a key role in the formation of the eukaryotic cell. These unique enzymes have thus moved from the margins of eukaryotic biology to become the focus of intense speculation and interest. This article summarizes current knowledge of their distribution, evolution and biochemistry.