We review here some recent data about glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), the first and key regulatory enzyme of the pentose phosphate pathway. New evidence has been presented to suggest that malaria is a selective agent for G6PD deficiency, which is the most common enzymopathy in man, and that G6PD deficiency, generally considered to be a mild and benign condition, is significantly disadvantageous in certain environmental conditions. At the molecular level, the enzyme structure has recently been elucidated and mechanisms regulating G6PD gene expression have been determined. A G6PD knock-out mutation introduced in mouse cells makes them exquisitely sensitive to oxidative stress, indicating that this ubiquitous metabolic enzyme has a major role in the defence against oxidative stress, even in eukaryotic nucleated cells, which have several alternative routes for providing the same protection. Because of the high prevalence of G6PD deficiency in many populations, it is expected that these findings will prompt further studies to ascertain the putative role of G6PD deficiency in conditions such as carcinogenesis and ageing.