Cytosine methylation is a DNA modification generally associated with transcriptional silencing. Factors that regulate methylation have been linked to human disease, yet how they contribute to malignances remains largely unknown. Genomic maps of DNA methylation have revealed unexpected dynamics at gene regulatory regions, including active demethylation by TET proteins at binding sites for transcription factors. These observations indicate that the underlying DNA sequence largely accounts for local patterns of methylation. As a result, this mark is highly informative when studying gene regulation in normal and diseased cells, and it can potentially function as a biomarker. Although these findings challenge the view that methylation is generally instructive for gene silencing, several open questions remain, including how methylation is targeted and recognized and in what context it affects genome readout.