Among the heavy metal-binding ligands in plant cells the phytochelatins (PCs) and metallothioneins (MTs) are the best characterized. PCs and MTs are different classes of cysteine-rich, heavy metal-binding protein molecules. PCs are enzymatically synthesized peptides, whereas MTs are gene-encoded polypeptides. Recently, genes encoding the enzyme PC synthase have been identified in plants and other species while the completion of the Arabidopsis genome sequence has allowed the identification of the entire suite of MT genes in a higher plant. Recent advances in understanding the regulation of PC biosynthesis and MT gene expression and the possible roles of PCs and MTs in heavy metal detoxification and homeostasis are reviewed.