Invading microbes are detected and ingested by white blood cells known as phagocytes. To do this the cells must distinguish between soluble microbe-derived components, such as pieces of cell wall, and the particulate microbes themselves. A study of the action of Dectin-1, an innate immune receptor that detects invading fungal pathogens, shows that although the receptor binds to both soluble and particulate cell-wall #x003B2; -glucans, its activation is restricted to sites of contact with fungal cell walls by the formation of 'phagocytic synapses'. The phagocytic synapse provides a mechanistic model for the specific detection of ligands associated with a microbial surface, as opposed to those released from microbes at a distance. On the cover, a murine bone-marrow-derived macrophage (red/green) engages multiple yeast particles (blue).