John Mattick graduated from the University of Sydney in 1972 and finished his PhD from Monash University in 1977, after which he entered on postdoctoral studies on fatty acid synthase at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. While in Houston he first became interested in the question of whether non-coding RNA has a function, when introns were discovered in the coding sequences of genes. But most of his work for the next 25 years was in microbiology, and it was not until the genomic studies of the past 15 years, and the revelation that most of the non-coding DNA of the human genome is transcribed, that he turned in earnest to the question of what the non-coding transcripts might be contributing. This is now the focus of his laboratory at the Institute for Molecular Biosciences at the University of Queensland, where he has worked since 1988. In this interview, he explains why he thinks non-coding RNA is fundamental to eukaryotic evolution.