This review reports the use of recombinant DNA techniques in the study of the structure and regulation of expression of insulin genes in man and experimental animals. Insulin biosynthesis by pancreatic islet cells is predominantly regulated by change in plasma glucose concentration. Using a cell-free protein synthesizing system as an assay of functional proinsulin messenger RNA (mRNA), and hybridization analysis with a cloned DNA complementary to proinsulin mRNA, it has been determined that at least part of glucose regulation of insulin hiosynthesis occurs through changes in proinsulin mRNA levels. Insulin genes of the rat, chicken and human have been isolated and sequenced. The 5′ ends of the genes have similar sequences suggesting areas important for regulation of transcription. There are two non-allelic insulin genes in the rat, but only one in chickens and humans. Intervening sequences, areas of DNA transcribed into precursor mRNA but which do not appear in mature mRNA, have been described within insulin genes. The insulin gene resides on chromosome 11 of humans as determined by DNA hybridization analysis of mouse human hybrid cells. The structure of the insulin gene in genomic DNA of humans has been analyzed in diabetics and non-diabetics. Insertions of DNA between 1500 and 3400 base pairs have been detected near the transcription initiation site in 65% of type II diabetics, and 25-30% of non-diabetics (this difference is significant at the p <0.001 level). Limitation of these insertions to this potential promoter region of the insulin gene suggests that they may alter gene expression in type  diabetes. These insertions of DNA may prove to be useful genetic markers for diabetes.