The recognition of changes in environmental conditions, and the ability to adapt to these changes, is essential for the viability of cells. There are numerous well characterized systems by which the presence or absence of an individual metabolite may be recognized by a cell. However, the recognition of a metabolite is just one step in a process that often results in changes in the expression of whole sets of genes required to respond to that metabolite. In higher eukaryotes, the signalling pathway between metabolite recognition and transcriptional control can be complex. Recent evidence from the relatively simple eukaryote yeast suggests that complex signalling pathways may be circumvented through the direct interaction between individual metabolites and regulators of RNA polymerase II-mediated transcription. Biochemical and structural analyses are beginning to unravel these elegant genetic control elements.