Simple sequence repeats (SSRs) often serve to modify genes with which they are associated. The influence of SSRs on gene regulation, transcription and protein function typically depends on the number of repeats, while mutations that add or subtract repeat units are both frequent and reversible. SSRs thus provide a prolific source of quantitative and qualitative variation. Over the past decade, researchers have found that this spontaneous variation has been tapped by natural and artificial selection to adjust almost every aspect of gene function. These studies support the hypothesis that SSRs, by virtue of their special mutational and functional qualities, have a major role in generating the genetic variation underlying adaptive evolution.