X–ray fibre–diffraction studies indicate a high degree of stereochemical specificity in interactions between water and the DNA double helix. Evidence for this comes from data that show that the molecular conformations assumed by DNA in fibres are highly reproducible and that the hydration–driven transitions between these conformations are fully reversible. These conformational transitions are induced by varying the relative humidity of the fibre environment and hence its water content. Further evidence for stereochemical specificity comes from the observed dependence of the conformation assumed on the ionic content of the fibre and the nucleotide sequence of the DNA. For some transitions, information on stereochemical pathways has come from real–time X–ray fibre diffraction using synchrotron radiation; information on the location of water with respect to the double helix for a number of DNA conformations has come from neutron fibre diffraction. This structural information from fibre–diffraction studies of DNA is complemented by information from X–ray single–crystal studies of oligonucleotides. If the biochemical processes involving DNA have evolved to exploit the structural features observed in DNA fibres and oligonucleotide single crystals, the challenges in developing alternatives to a water environment can be expected to be very severe.