In most eukaryotes, double-stranded RNA is processed into small RNAs that are potent regulators of gene expression. This gene silencing process is known as RNA silencing or RNA interference (RNAi) and, in plants and nematodes, it is associated with the production of a mobile signal that can travel from cell-to-cell and over long distances. The sequence-specific nature of systemic RNA silencing indicates that a nucleic acid is a component of the signalling complex. Recent work has shed light on the mobile RNA species, the genes involved in the production and transport of the signal. This review discusses the advances in systemic RNAi and presents the current challenges and questions in this rapidly evolving field.