Recent advances in nucleic acid technology have facilitated the detection and detailed structural analysis of a wide variety of genes in higher organisms, including those in man. This in turn has opened the way to an examination of the evolution of structural genes and their surrounding and intervening sequences. In a study of the evolution of haemoglobin genes and neighbouring sequences in man and the primates, we have investigated gene arrangement and DNA sequence divergence both within and between species ranging from Old World monkeys to man. This analysis is beginning to reveal the evolutionary constraints that have acted on this region of the genome during primate evolution. Furthermore, DNA sequence variation, both within and between species, provides, in principle, a novel and powerful method for determining interspecific phylogenetic distances and also for analysing the structure of present-day human populations. Application of this new branch of molecular biology to other areas of the human genome should prove important in unravelling the history of genetic changes that have occurred during the evolution of man.