Genetic studies of many diversely regulated genes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae have identified two groups of genes with global functions in transcription. The first group comprises five SNF and SWI genes required for transcriptional activation. The other group, containing SPT and SIN genes, was identified by suppressor analysis and includes genes that encode histones. Recent evidence suggests that these SNF/SWI and SPT/SIN genes control transcription via effects on chromatin. SNF2/SWI2 sequence homologues have been identified in many organisms, suggesting that the SNF/SWI and SPT/SIN functions are conserved throughout eukaryotes.