Drosophila responds to a septic injury by the rapid synthesis of antimicrobial peptides. These molecules are predominantly produced by the fat body, a functional equivalent of mammalian liver, and are secreted into the hemolymph where their concentrations can reach up to 100 microM. Six distinct antibacterial peptides (plus isoforms) and one antifungal peptide have been characterized in Drosophila and their genes cloned. The induction of the gene encoding the antifungal peptide relies on the spätzle/Toll/cactus gene cassette, which is involved in the control of dorsoventral patterning in the embryo, and shows interesting structural and functional similarities with cytokine-induced activation of NF-kappa B in mammalian cells. An additional pathway, dependent on the as yet unidentified imd (for immune-deficiency) gene, is required for the full induction of the antibacterial peptide genes. Mutants deficient for the Toll and imd pathways exhibit a severely reduced survival to fungal and bacterial infections, respectively. Recent data on the molecular mechanisms underlying recognition of non-self are also discussed in this review.