All multicellular organisms have mechanisms for killing their own cells, and use physiological cell death for defence, development, homeostasis, and aging. Apoptosis is a morphologically recognizable form of cell death that is implemented by a mechanism that has been conserved throughout evolution from nematode to man. Thus homologs of the genes that implement cell death in nematodes also do so in mammals, but in mammals the process is considerably more complex, involving multiple isoforms of the components of the cell death machinery. In some circumstances this allows independent regulation of pathways that converge upon a common end point. A molecular understanding of this mechanism may allow design of therapies that either enhance or block cell death at will.