The glomerular filtration barrier consists of the fenestrated endothelium, the glomerular basement membrane and the terminally differentiated visceral epithelial cells known as podocytes. It is now widely accepted that damage to, or originating within, the podocytes is a key event that initiates progression towards sclerosis in many glomerular diseases. A wide variety of strategies have been employed by investigators from many scientific disciplines to study the podocyte. Although invaluable insights have accrued from conventional approaches, including cell culture and biochemical-based methods, many renal researchers continue to rely upon the mouse to address the form and function of the podocyte. This review summarizes how genetic manipulation in the mouse has advanced our understanding of the podocyte in relation to the maintenance of the glomerular filtration barrier in health and disease.