The centromere is an essential cis-acting structure present in the chromosomes of all eukaryotes, central to the mechanism that ensures proper segregation during meiosis and mitosis. Molecular characterization of centromeres in the budding and fission yeasts has advanced significantly over the last few years due to their relatively small size and the availability of functional assays. However, identification and characterization of centromeric sequences from multicellular organisms has proven to be slow and difficult in the absence of direct functional tests. Molecular data have recently become available on the centromere of Drosophila, making it possible to bridge a long-standing gap in our knowledge on the general structure of centromeres. An evaluation of the available data from yeast to man suggests that centromere sequence and centromere sequence organization have diverged significantly, even amongst different chromosomes of a single organism; however, overall centromere organization and kinetochore components might be significantly more conserved than thought previously.