The recent determination of the complete genome sequence of Corynebacterium diphtheriae, the aetiological agent of diphtheria, has allowed a detailed comparison of its physiology with that of its closest sequenced pathogenic relative Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Of major importance to the pathogenicity and resilience of the latter is its particularly complex cell envelope. The corynebacteria share many of the features of this extraordinary structure although to a lesser level of complexity. The cell envelope of M. tuberculosis has provided the molecular targets for several of the major anti-tubercular drugs. Given a backdrop of emerging multi-drug resistant strains of the organism (MDR-TB) and its continuing global threat to human health, the search for novel anti-tubercular agents is of paramount importance. The unique structure of this cell wall and the importance of its integrity to the viability of the organism suggest that the search for novel drug targets within the array of enzymes responsible for its construction may prove fruitful. Although the application of modern bioinformatics techniques to the 'mining' of the M. tuberculosis genome has already increased our knowledge of the biosynthesis and assembly of the mycobacterial cell wall, several issues remain uncertain. Further analysis by comparison with its relatives may bring clarity and aid the early identification of novel cellular targets for new anti-tuberculosis drugs. In order to facilitate this aim, this review intends to illustrate the broad similarities and highlight the structural differences between the two bacterial envelopes and discuss the genetics of their biosynthesis.