A successful genetic dissection of the circadian regulation of behaviour has been achieved through phenotype-driven mutagenesis screens in flies and mice. Cloning and biochemical analysis of these evolutionarily conserved proteins has led to detailed molecular insight into the clock mechanism. Few behaviours enjoy the degree of understanding that exists for circadian rhythms at the genetic, cellular and anatomical levels. The circadian clock has so eagerly spilled her secrets that we may soon know the unbroken chain of events from gene to behaviour. It will likely be fruitful to wield this uncommon degree of knowledge to attack one of the most challenging problems in genetics: the basis of complex human behavioural disorders. We review here the genetic screens that provided the entreé into the heart of the circadian clock, the model of the clock mechanism that has resulted, and the prospects for using the homologues as candidate genes in studies of human circadian dysrhythmias.