The passage of an individual's genome to future generations is essential for the maintenance of species and is mediated by highly specialized cells, the germ cells. Genetic studies in a number of model organisms have provided insight into the molecular mechanisms that control specification, migration and survival of early germ cells. Focusing on Drosophila, we will discuss the mechanisms by which germ cells initially form and remain transcriptionally silent while somatic cells are transcriptionally active. We will further discuss three separate attractive and repellent guidance pathways, mediated by a G-protein coupled receptor, two lipid phosphate phosphohydrolases, and isoprenylation. We will compare and contrast these findings with those obtained in other organisms, in particular zebrafish and mice. While aspects of germ cell specification are strikingly different between these species, germ cell specific gene functions have been conserved. In particular, mechanisms that sense directional cues during germ cell migration seem to be shared between invertebrates and vertebrates.