A significant proportion of bacteria express two or more chaperonin genes. Chaperonins are a group of molecular chaperones, defined by sequence similarity, required for the folding of some cellular proteins. Chaperonin monomers have a mass of c. 60 kDa, and are typically found as large protein complexes containing 14 subunits arranged in two rings. The mechanism of action of the Escherichia coli GroEL protein has been studied in great detail. It acts by binding to unfolded proteins and enabling them to fold in a protected environment where they do not interact with any other proteins. GroEL can assist the folding of many proteins of different sizes, sequences, and structures, and homologues from many different bacteria can functionally replace GroEL in E. coli. What then are the functions of multiple chaperonins? Do they provide a mechanism for cells to increase their general chaperoning ability, or have they become specialized to take on specific novel cellular roles? Here I will review the genetic, biochemical, and phylogenetic evidence that has a bearing on this question, and show that there is good evidence for at least some specificity of function in multiple chaperonin genes.