Animal mitochondrial DNA is a small, extrachromosomal genome, typically approximately 16 kb in size. With few exceptions, all animal mitochondrial genomes contain the same 37 genes: two for rRNAs, 13 for proteins and 22 for tRNAs. The products of these genes, along with RNAs and proteins imported from the cytoplasm, endow mitochondria with their own systems for DNA replication, transcription, mRNA processing and translation of proteins. The study of these genomes as they function in mitochondrial systems-'mitochondrial genomics'-serves as a model for genome evolution. Furthermore, the comparison of animal mitochondrial gene arrangements has become a very powerful means for inferring ancient evolutionary relationships, since rearrangements appear to be unique, generally rare events that are unlikely to arise independently in separate evolutionary lineages. Complete mitochondrial gene arrangements have been published for 58 chordate species and 29 non-chordate species, and partial arrangements for hundreds of other taxa. This review compares and summarizes these gene arrangements and points out some of the questions that may be addressed by comparing mitochondrial systems.