The ultimate goal of the Environmental Genome Project is the improvement of human health on the basis of information about the variations in certain genes. The first phase of the project will involve the selection of the human genes and characterization of the alleles occurring in the American population. However, intelligent use of this information will require analysis of the relevance of the allelic differences. Epidemiology alone will not solve the problem, and mechanistic studies will be required. Factors to be considered in the design of functional analyses are considered in this commentary.