Familial aggregation and concordance in monozygotic and dizygotic twins argue strongly for a genetic etiology to noninsulin-dependent diabetes (NIDDM). Nonetheless, studies of pathways implicated by the known physiology have failed to identify gene defects that can explain the genetic susceptibility. In contrast, studies of early onset dominant diabetes have revealed three major loci resulting in diminished insulin secretion. Recently, studies have taken a new approach to map the genes causing typical NIDDM using large numbers of families or sibling pairs. The first reports of these studies have suggested possible loci on chromosomes 1, 2 and 12, but no report has been confirmed. Other studies have examined the quantitative defects that may be precursors of clinical NIDDM such as hyperinsulinemia, hyperglycemia, insulin response to glucose and obesity. These studies have suggested additional loci that may contribute to NIDDM susceptibility, but the genes responsible for most of these loci remain unknown. Studies of NIDDM susceptibility and the role of obesity genes in that susceptibility have entered an exciting new phase, but the challenges of complex disease genetics in humans will have to be conquered to translate this research into preventive or therapeutic benefits.