Fifty years after the publication of the DNA double helix model by Watson and Crick, new nucleic acid structures keep emerging at an ever-increasing rate. The past three years have brought a flurry of new oligonucleotide structures, including those of a Hoogsteen-paired DNA duplex, Holliday junctions, DNA-drug complexes, quadruplexes, a host of RNA motifs and various nucleic acid analogues. Major advances were also made in terms of the structure and function of catalytic RNAs. These range from improved models of the phosphodiester cleavage reactions catalyzed by the hairpin and hepatitis delta virus ribozymes to the visualization of a complete active site of a group I self-splicing intron with bound 5'- and 3'-exons. These triumphs are complemented by a refined understanding of cation-nucleic-acid interactions and new routes to the generation of derivatives for phasing of DNA and RNA structures.