Obligate intracellular pathogens in the family Chlamydiaceae infect taxonomically diverse eukaryotes ranging from amoebae to mammals. However, many fundamental aspects of chlamydial cell biology and pathogenesis remain poorly understood. Genetic dissection of chlamydial biology has historically been hampered by a lack of genetic tools. Exploitation of the ability of chlamydia to recombine genomic material by lateral gene transfer (LGT) ushered in a new era in chlamydia research. With methods to map mutations in place, genetic screens were able to assign functions and phenotypes to specific chlamydial genes. Development of an approach for stable transformation of chlamydia also provided a mechanism for gene delivery and platforms for disrupting chromosomal genes. Here, we explore how these and other tools have been used to test hypotheses concerning the functions of known chlamydial virulence factors and discover the functions of completely uncharacterized genes. Refinement and extension of the existing genetic tools to additional Chlamydia spp. will substantially advance understanding of the biology and pathogenesis of this important group of pathogens.