Cryptococcus neoformans is a pathogenic fungus that primarily afflicts immunocompromised patients, infecting the central nervous system to cause meningoencephalitis that is uniformly fatal if untreated. C. neoformans is a basidiomycetous fungus with a defined sexual cycle that has been linked to differentiation and virulence. Recent advances in classical and molecular genetic approaches have allowed molecular descriptions of the pathways that control cell type and virulence. An ongoing genome sequencing project promises to reveal much about the evolution of this human fungal pathogen into three distinct varieties or species. C. neoformans shares features with both model ascomycetous yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Schizosaccharomyces pombe) and basidiomycetous pathogens and mushrooms (Ustilago maydis, Coprinus cinereus, Schizophyllum commune), yet ongoing studies reveal unique features associated with virulence and the arrangement of the mating type locus. These advances have catapulted C. neoformans to center stage as a model of both fungal pathogenesis and the interesting approaches to life that the kingdom of fungi has adopted.