There is tremendous ferment in the field of epigenetics as the relationships between chromatin structure and DNA methylation patterns become clearer. Central to this activity is the realization that the 'histone code', which involves the post-translational modification of histones and which has important ramifications for chromatin structure, may be linked to the DNA cytosine methylation pattern. New discoveries have suggested that histone lysine 9 methylation is implicated in the spread of heterochromatin in Drosophila and other organisms. Very recently it has been found that histone lysine 9 methylation is also necessary for some DNA methylation in Neurospora and plants. There is therefore the possibility that these two processes are closely linked, suggesting ways in which DNA methylation patterns may be established during normal development. Understanding these processes is fundamental to understanding what goes awry during the process of aging and carcinogenesis where DNA methylation patterns become substantially altered and contribute to the malignant phenotype.