The pace of pathogen discovery is rapidly accelerating. This reflects not only factors that enable the appearance and globalization of new microbial infections, but also improvements in methods for ascertaining the cause of a new disease. Innovative molecular diagnostic platforms, investments in pathogen surveillance (in wildlife, domestic animals and humans) and the advent of social media tools that mine the World Wide Web for clues indicating the occurrence of infectious-disease outbreaks are all proving to be invaluable for the early recognition of threats to public health. In addition, models of microbial pathogenesis are becoming more complex, providing insights into the mechanisms by which microorganisms can contribute to chronic illnesses like cancer, peptic ulcer disease and mental illness. Here, I review the factors that contribute to infectious-disease emergence, as well as strategies for addressing the challenges of pathogen surveillance and discovery.