The development of type 1 diabetes is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. The current rise in the incidence of diabetes is occurring more rapidly than can be accounted for by genetic change, highlighting the influence of environmental modifiers. Considerable effort has been expended to identify infectious agents that might be responsible for this rise in incidence, but no single infectious agent has been linked to this dramatic increase in type 1 diabetes. There has been increasing interest in the possibility that infections of historical importance that might have shaped our immune systems over evolutionary time may also have played a role in down-modulating some autoimmune and allergic disorders. In this review, some of the ways in which certain organisms might have influenced the onset of autoimmunity are discussed.