Interest in BRCA1 stems from its role as a tumour suppressor in breast and ovarian cancer. Intensive research in BRCA1 has revealed little about its specific role in cancer; rather, this protein has been implicated in a multitude of important cellular processes. The diverse biochemical activities of BRCA1 combine to protect the genome from damage. New data reveal that BRCA1 transcriptionally regulates some DNA-repair genes, and, in addition, new roles for BRCA1 have been identified in heterochromatin formation on the X chromosome, double-strand-break repair, and ubiquitination. These diverse activities of BRCA1 may be linked in a single pathway, or BRCA1 might function in multiple nuclear processes.