The mevalonate pathway for the biosynthesis of the universal terpenoid precursors, isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) and dimethylallyl diphosphate (DMAPP), is known in considerable detail. Only recently, the existence of a second mevalonate-independent pathway for the biosynthesis of IPP and DMAPP was detected in plants and certain eubacteria. Experiments with 13C and/or 2H-labelled precursors were crucial in the elucidation of this novel route. The pathway is essential in plants, many eubacteria and apicomplexan parasites, but not in archaea and animals. The genes, enzymes and intermediates of this pathway were rapidly unravelled over the past few years. Detailed knowledge about the mechanisms of this novel route may benefit the development of novel antibiotics, antimalarials and herbicides.