Estimates of the number of zinc proteins in humans are now possible and a functional annotation of the zinc proteome can begin. The catalytic and structural roles of zinc in hundreds of enzymes and thousands of so-called "zinc finger" protein domains have provided a molecular basis for the numerous biological functions of this essential element. Additional, regulatory functions of zinc/protein interactions are being recognized. They include roles of the zinc ion in signal transduction, in controlling the architecture of protein complexes, and in redox-active zinc sites, where the binding and release of zinc is under redox control. Moreover, a considerable number of proteins participate in cellular zinc homeostasis, e.g. membrane transporters, and cellular storage, sensor, and trafficking proteins. These proteins have evolved with mechanisms to handle zinc ions rather specifically and selectively. They perform their functions with a remarkably modest set: One redox state of the zinc ion and nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur ligands from the side chains of histidine, glutamate/aspartate, and cysteine, respectively. By permutation of the ligands in this set, the functional potential of the zinc ion has been fully explored. Different coordination environments modulate the chemical characteristics of the zinc ion, control the kinetics of its binding, and allow it to be either metabolically active or inert. Insights into all these functions are building an understanding of why zinc is so critical for such a multitude of life processes.