Autophagy is a Greek-derived concept that means "self-eating" and is increasingly recognized as an important regulator of homeostasis and disease. In this issue of the JCI, Yeganeh et al. report the important finding that intrinsic autophagy is required for normal progression of lung development. Conditional deletion of the beclin 1-encoding gene (Becn1) specifically within lung epithelial cells of embryonic mice resulted in neonatal lethal respiratory distress that was associated with negative impacts on airway branching and differentiation of airway epithelial cell lineages. The authors draw speculative parallels with the alveolar simplification phenotype of bronchopulmonary dysplasia in premature human infants and suggest that stimulation of autophagy by cAMP-dependent kinase activation might conceivably rescue these phenotypes.