Genetic analyses of mycorrhizal symbioses have been far less common to date than molecular biological investigations. This review aims to address the problem that genetic research approaches are some of the least familiar to non specialists by providing some detailed explanations of the requirements and processes involved, including concepts of genetic variation and genetic mapping. Each section includes examples of research progress which is restricted to studies of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) and ectomycorrhizal (EcM) symbioses. Most such research has focussed on AM hosts or EcM fungi. For AM hosts, some early work on natural genetic variation has not been exploited yet, but new research with barley and clover will enable genetic mapping of mycorrhizal associated QTLs for the first time. EcM fungal studies have shown a genetic basis for mycorrhizal capacity and quantitative genetic differences in mycorrhizal capacity. Some recent work with EcM hosts has begun genetic mapping of QTLs associated with mycorrhizal status. Most AM genetic research has focussed on analysis of nodulation-defective mutants for their AM host status. Map-based cloning and characterisation of the first genes shown by these analyses to be essential for establishment of both nodulation and mycorrhizal symbioses are anticipated shortly. Comparisons with molecular and genetic research on plant disease resistance genes and signalling pathways may prove useful as those studies are more advanced and underlying biochemical and evolutionary relationships are likely to exist.