Lichen-forming fungi are unique organisms, producing biologically active metabolites with a great variety of effects, including antibiotic, antimycobacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, antiproliferative and cytotoxic activities. However, only very limited numbers of lichen substances have been screened for their biological activities and their therapeutic potential in medicine. This is certainly due to the difficulties encountered in identification of the species, collection of bulk quantities, and the isolation of pure substances for structure determination and testing activity. Recently, possibilities for bypassing some of these former difficulties have arisen by the introduction of new techniques. This includes axenic cultivation for production of the genuine compounds or new ones, extraction of focused compounds, or synthesis of natural products or their derivatives for testing. Utilizing these new opportunities, the discovery of novel active metabolites, which could serve as lead compounds, is significantly facilitated. At the same time, the evolution of secondary metabolite patterns is studied using phylogenetic approaches. Yet, the genetic background of the complex chemical patterns is poorly understood. The scattered occurrence of some compounds suggests that their production evolved either in parallel or that ancient biosynthetic pathways are abandoned in many lineages. At least, studies on polyketide synthase genes from different lichen groups suggest a high level of gene paralogy. In this context, clades of orthologous polyketide synthase genes, which are often shared with distantly related non-lichenized fungi, can roughly be identified by their sequence similarity and their similar patterns of substitution rates. The functional assignment of paralogs is nevertheless difficult and reasonable only in a few cases. A global approach of the lichen metabolomic features appears to be essential in developing new and viable biotechnological processes which could afford suitable amounts of unique lichen compounds.