The comet assay is widely used in human biomonitoring to measure DNA damage as a marker of exposure to genotoxic agents or to investigate genoprotective effects. Studies often involve small numbers of subjects, and design may be sub-optimal in other respects. In addition, comet assay protocols in use in different laboratories vary significantly. In spite of these difficulties, it is appropriate to carry out a pooled analysis of all available comet assay biomonitoring data, in order to establish baseline parameters of DNA damage, and to investigate associations between comet assay measurements and factors such as sex, age, smoking status, nutrition, lifestyle, etc. With this as its major objective, the ComNet project has recruited almost 100 research groups willing to share datasets. Here we provide a background to this project, discussing the history of the comet assay and practical issues that can critically affect its performance. We survey its diverse applications in biomonitoring studies, including environmental and occupational exposure to genotoxic agents, genoprotection by dietary and other factors, DNA damage associated with various diseases, and intrinsic factors that affect DNA damage levels in humans. We examine in depth the quality of data from a random selection of studies, from an epidemiological and statistical point of view. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.