Background Since the identification of the genes controlling the root acquisition of iron (Fe), the control of inter- and intracellular distribution has become an important challenge in understanding metal homeostasis. The identification of the yellow stripe-like (YSL) transporter family has paved the way to decipher the mechanisms of long-distance transport of Fe. Scope Once in the plant, Fe will systematically react with organic ligands whose identity is poorly known so far. Among potential ligands, nicotianamine has been identified as an important molecule for the circulation and delivery of metals since it participates in the loading of copper (Cu) and nickel in xylem and prevents Fe precipitation in leaves. Nicotianamine is a precursor of phytosiderophores, which are high-affinity Fe ligands exclusively synthesized by Poaceae species and excreted by roots for the chelation and acquisition of Fe. Maize YS1 is the founding member of a family of membrane transporters called YS1-like (YSL), which functions in root Fe-phytosiderophore uptake from the soil. Next to this well-known Fe acquisition role, most of the other YSL family members are likely to function in plant-wide distribution of metals since (a) they are produced in vascular tissues throughout the plant and (b) they are found in non-Poaceae species that do not synthesize phytosiderophores. The hypothesized activity as Fe-nicotianamine transporters of several YSL members has been demonstrated experimentally by heterologous expression in yeast or by electrophysiology in Xenopus oocytes but, despite numerous attempts, proof of the arabidopsis YSL substrate specificity is still lacking. Reverse genetics, however, has revealed a role for AtYSL members in the remobilization of Cu and zinc from senescing leaves, in the formation of pollen and in the Fe, zinc and Cu loading of seeds. Conclusions Preliminary data on the YSL family of transporters clearly argues in favour of its role in the long-distance transport of metals through and between vascular tissues to eventually support gametogenesis and embryo development.