A secondary metabolite is a chemical compound produced by a limited number of fungal species in a genus, an order, or even phylum. A profile of secondary metabolites consists of all the different compounds a fungus can produce on a given substratum and includes toxins, antibiotics and other outward-directed compounds. Chemotaxonomy is traditionally restricted to comprise fatty acids, proteins, carbohydrates, or secondary metabolites, but has sometimes been defined so broadly that it also includes DNA sequences. It is not yet possible to use secondary metabolites in phylogeny, because of the inconsistent distribution throughout the fungal kingdom. However, this is the very quality that makes secondary metabolites so useful in classification and identification. Four groups of organisms are particularly good producers of secondary metabolites: plants, fungi, lichen fungi, and actinomycetes, whereas yeasts, protozoa, and animals are less efficient producers. Therefore, secondary metabolites have mostly been used in plant and fungal taxonomy, whereas chemotaxonomy has been neglected in bacteriology. Lichen chemotaxonomy has been based on few biosynthetic families (chemosyndromes), whereas filamentous fungi have been analysed for a wide array of terpenes, polyketides, non-ribosomal peptides, and combinations of these. Fungal chemotaxonomy based on secondary metabolites has been used successfully in large ascomycete genera such as Alternaria, Aspergillus, Fusarium, Hypoxylon, Penicillium, Stachybotrys, Xylaria and in few basidiomycete genera, but not in Zygomycota and Chytridiomycota. (C) 2007 The British Mycological Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.