Microtubules are composed predominantly of two related proteins: alpha- and beta-tubulin. These proteins form the tubulin heterodimer, which is the basic building block of microtubules. Surprisingly, recent molecular genetic studies have revealed the existence of gamma-tubulin, a new member of the tubulin family. Like alpha- and beta-tubulin, gamma-tubulin is essential for microtubule function but, unlike alpha- and beta-tubulin, it is not a component of microtubules. Rather, it is located at microtubule-organizing centres and may function in the nucleation of microtubule assembly and establishment of microtubule polarity.