Stem-cell populations are established in `niches' - specific anatomic locations that regulate how they participate in tissue generation, maintenance and repair. The niche saves stem cells from depletion, while protecting the host from over-exuberant stem-cell proliferation. It constitutes a basic unit of tissue physiology, integrating signals that mediate the balanced response of stem cells to the needs of organisms. Yet the niche may also induce pathologies by imposing aberrant function on stem cells or other targets. The interplay between stem cells and their niche creates the dynamic system necessary for sustaining tissues, and for the ultimate design of stem-cell therapeutics.