Fatty acid degradation in most organisms occurs primarily via the beta-oxidation cycle. In mammals, beta-oxidation occurs in both mitochondria and peroxisomes, whereas plants and most fungi harbor the beta-oxidation cycle only in the peroxisomes. Although several of the enzymes participating in this pathway in both organelles are similar, some distinct physiological roles have been uncovered. Recent advances in the structural elucidation of numerous mammalian and yeast enzymes involved in beta-oxidation have shed light on the basis of the substrate specificity for several of them. Of particular interest is the structural organization and function of the type 1 and 2 multifunctional enzyme (MFE-1 and MFE-2), two enzymes evolutionarily distant yet catalyzing the same overall enzymatic reactions but via opposite stereochemistry. New data on the physiological roles of the various enzymes participating in beta-oxidation have been gathered through the analysis of knockout mutants in plants, yeast and animals, as well as by the use of polyhydroxyalkanoate synthesis from beta-oxidation intermediates as a tool to study carbon flux through the pathway. In plants, both forward and reverse genetics performed on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana have revealed novel roles for beta-oxidation in the germination process that is independent of the generation of carbohydrates for growth, as well as in embryo and flower development, and the generation of the phytohormone indole-3-acetic acid and the signal molecule jasmonic acid.