In the rRNA-based tree of life four bacterial phyla, comprising the Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia, Chlamydiae and Lentisphaerae, form together with the candidate phyla Poribacteria and OP3 a monophyletic group referred to as the PVC superphylum. This assemblage contains organisms that possess dramatically different lifestyles and which colonize sharply contrasting habitats. Some members of this group are among the most successful human pathogens, others are abundant soil microbes, and others still are of major importance for the marine nitrogen cycle and hold much promise for sustainable wastewater treatment. Recent comparative genomic and metagenomic analyses of a few representatives of this group revealed many unusual features and generated unexpected hypotheses regarding their physiology, some of which have already been confirmed experimentally. Furthermore, the availability of these genome sequences offered new insights into the evolutionary history of this peculiar group of microbes with major medical, ecological and biotechnological relevance.