Unlike the most well-characterized prokaryotic polymerase, E. coli DNA pol l, none of the eukaryotic polymerases have their own 5' to 3' exonuclease domain for nick translation and Okazaki fragment processing. In eukaryotes, FEN-1 is an endo- and exonuclease that carries out this function independently of the polymerase molecules. Only seven nucleases have been cloned from multicellular eukaryotic cells. Among these, FEN-1 is intriguing because it has complex structural preferences; specifically, it cleaves at branched DNA structures. The cloning of FEN-1 permitted establishment of the first eukaryotic nuclease family, predicting that S. cerevisiae RAD2 (S. pombe Rad13) and its mammalian homolog, XPG, would have similar structural specificity. The FEN-1 nuclease family includes several similar enzymes encoded by bacteriophages. The crystal structures of two enzymes in the FEN-1 nuclease family have been solved and they provide a structural basis for the interesting steric requirements of FEN-1 substrates. Because of their unique structural specificities, FEN-1 and its family members have important roles in DNA replication, repair and, potentially, recombination. Recently, FEN-1 was found to specifically associate with PCNA, explaining some aspects of FEN-1 function during DNA replication and potentially in DNA repair.