Pentatricopeptide repeat (PPR) proteins are RNA-binding proteins that are particularly prevalent in terrestrial plants. Although the PPR protein family was only recognized eight years ago, it is already clear that these proteins have a range of essential functions in post-transcriptional processes (including RNA editing, RNA splicing, RNA cleavage and translation) within mitochondria and chloroplasts. Several PPR proteins have been shown to act as fertility restorer genes in commercially important cytoplasmic male sterility systems. Here, we discuss several recent papers that cover their evolutionary history and molecular mode of action. We use these new data to propose hypotheses for their physiological roles that could explain why PPR proteins are so numerous in terrestrial plants.