We review the biology of non-flagellar type-III secretion systems from a Darwinian perspective, highlighting the themes of evolution, conservation, variation and decay. The presence of these systems in environmental organisms such as Myxococcus, Desulfovibrio and Verrucomicrobium hints at roles beyond virulence. We review newly discovered sequence homologies (e.g., YopN/TyeA and SepL). We discuss synapomorphies that might be useful in formulating a taxonomy of type-III secretion. The problem of information overload is likely to be ameliorated by launch of a web site devoted to the comparative biology of type-III secretion (http://3base.bham.ac.uk).