Between 16–21 August 2004, 250 lichenologists gathered in Tartu, Estonia for the Fifth Symposium of the International Association for Lichenology (IAL5). The meeting comprised six principal lecture sessions and associated posters. This issue of The Lichenologist presents papers deriving from contributions to Session 3: Genes, Physiology and Structure. This session probably had the broadest scope of all those comprising the symposium because it essentially encompassed all aspects of the general biology of the lichen thallus. The response to this topic from prospective authors and presenters was excellent and the final programme included fourteen oral presentations and sixteen posters; of this total of thirty contributions, eight are published here. Inevitably, several of the oral and poster presentations were already submitted to, or destined for, alternative journals or were considered too preliminary to warrant publication at this stage. In particular, there were several excellent “molecular” contributions dealing with such topics as breeding systems, genetic diversity, microbial diversity within thalli, and the genetic control of secondary metabolite production, but none were available or offered as papers to this volume.