The term non-coding RNA (ncRNA) is commonly employed for RNA that does not encode a protein, but this does not mean that such RNAs do not contain information nor have function. Although it has been generally assumed that most genetic information is transacted by proteins, recent evidence suggests that the majority of the genomes of mammals and other complex organisms is in fact transcribed into ncRNAs, many of which are alternatively spliced and/or processed into smaller products. These ncRNAs include microRNAs and snoRNAs (many if not most of which remain to be identified), as well as likely other classes of yet-to-be-discovered small regulatory RNAs, and tens of thousands of longer transcripts (including complex patterns of interlacing and overlapping sense and antisense transcripts), most of whose functions are unknown. These RNAs (including those derived from introns) appear to comprise a hidden layer of internal signals that control various levels of gene expression in physiology and development, including chromatin architecture/epigenetic memory, transcription, RNA splicing, editing, translation and turnover. RNA regulatory networks may determine most of our complex characteristics, play a significant role in disease and constitute an unexplored world of genetic variation both within and between species.