Siderophores are low molecular weight, iron-chelating ligands produced by nearly all microorganisms. Fungi synthesize a wide range of hydroxamate siderophores. This review considers the chemical and biological aspects of these siderophores, their distribution amongst fungal genera and their possible applications. Siderophores function primarily as iron transport compounds. Expression of siderophore biosynthesis and the uptake systems is regulated by internal iron concentrations. Transport of siderophores is an energy-dependent process and is stereoselective, depending on recognition of the metal ion coordination geometry. In addition to transporting iron, siderophores have other functions and effects, including enhancing pathogenicity, acting as intracellular iron storage compounds and suppressing growth of other microorganisms. Siderophores can complex other metals apart from iron, in particular the actinides. Because of their metal-binding ability there are potential applications for siderophores in medicine, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, remediation of metal-contaminated sites and the treatment of industrial waste.