In an era dominated by molecular biology, genomics and proteomics it is perhaps not surprising that a relatively small number of scientists worldwide have focused their research on an obscure family of glycoconjugates known as the glycosphingolipids. At first glance, these molecules have very little to commend them; they are complex and variable, not abundant in relation to other cellular lipids, are the product of multi–gene pathways making them hard to manipulate, are not trivial to purify or characterize and the technologies to analyse them have traditionally been insensitive and cumbersome. To compound the problem, we do not fully understand the role they play in cells let alone how they contribute to homeostasis in the intact organism. Theories abound but, until recently, hard evidence has been lacking. For decades they have therefore been a minority interest overlooked by the majority of investigators in both the biological and biomedical sciences.