The use of simple organisms to understand the molecular and cellular function of complex processes is instrumental for the rapid development of biomedical research. A remarkable example has been the discovery in S. cerevisiae of a group of proteins involved in the pathways of autophagy. Orthologues of these proteins have been identified in humans and experimental model organisms. Interestingly, some mammalian autophagy proteins do not seem to have homologues in yeast but are present in Dictyostelium, a social amoeba with two distinctive life phases, a unicellular stage in nutrient-rich conditions that differentiates upon starvation into a multicellular stage that depends on autophagy. This review focuses on the identification and annotation of the putative Dictyostelium autophagy genes and on the role of autophagy in development, cell death and infection by bacterial pathogens.