Non-ribosomal peptides are a group of secondary metabolites with a wide range of bioactivities, produced by prokaryotes and lower eukaryotes. Recently, non-ribosomal synthesis has been detected in diverse microorganisms, including the myxobacteria and cyanobacteria. Peptides biosynthesized non-ribosomally may often play a primary or secondary role in the producing organism. Non-ribosomal peptides are often small in size and contain unusual or modified amino acids. Biosynthesis occurs via large modular enzyme complexes, with each module responsible for the activation and thiolation of each amino acid, followed by peptide bond formation between activated amino acids. Modules may also be responsible for the enzymatic modification of the substrate amino acid. Recent analysis of biosynthetic gene clusters has identified novel integrated, mixed and hybrid enzyme systems. These diverse mechanisms of biosynthesis result in the wide variety of non-ribosomal peptide structures and bioactivities seen today. Knowledge of these biosynthetic systems is rapidly increasing and methods of genetically engineering these systems are being developed. In the future, this may lead to rational drug design through combinatorial biosynthesis of these enzyme systems.