Discovered just over a decade ago, microRNA (miRNA) is now recognized as one of the major regulatory gene families in eukaryotic cells. Hundreds of miRNAs have been found in animals, plants and viruses, and there are certainly more to come. Through specific base-pairing with mRNAs, these tiny approximately 22-nt RNAs induce mRNA degradation or translational repression, or both. Because a miRNA can target numerous mRNAs, often in combination with other miRNAs, miRNAs operate highly complex regulatory networks. In this article, we summarize the current status of miRNA gene mining and miRNA expression profiling. We also review up-to-date knowledge of miRNA gene structure and the biogenesis mechanism. Our focus is on animal miRNAs.