Programmed cell death and apoptosis have now been recognised as biological phenomena which are of fundamental importance to the integrity of organisms. What may have evolved as an altruistic defence against pathogen invasion in simple organisms is now a major regulatory mechanism in the development and maintenance of multi-cellular organisms. The classically defined morphological characteristics of apoptosis are now accompanied by a plethora of information regarding common biochemical and genetic mediators of programmed cell death. It is apparent that life and death decisions are taken by individual cells based on their interpretation of physiological signals, or their own self-assessment of internal damage. The knowledge that cell death is a genetically regulated process has highlighted an inherent potential for manipulation and offered new avenues for research into several diseases, and also productivity improvements in the biotechnology industry. This relatively "new frontier" in cell science has undoubtedly widened our perspectives and may provide novel strategies to expedite both medical and biotechnological research.