Nicotianamine (NA) is a metabolite synthesized by all plants, in which it is involved in the homeostasis of different micronutrients such as iron, nickel or zinc. In some plants it also serves as a precursor of phytosiderophores, which are used for extracellular iron scavenging. Previous studies have also established the presence of NA in filamentous fungi and some mosses, whereas an analogue of NA was inferred in an archaeon. More recently, opine-type metallophores with homology to NA were uncovered in bacteria, especially in human pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Yersinia pestis, synthesizing respectively staphylopine, pseudopaline and yersinopine. Here, we review the current state of knowledge regarding the discovery, biosynthesis, function and regulation of these metallophores. We also discuss the genomic environment of the cntL gene, which is homologous to the plant NA synthase (NAS) gene, and plays a central role in the synthesis of NA-like metallophores. This reveals a large diversity of biosynthetic, export and import pathways. Using sequence similarity networks, we uncovered that these metallophores are widespread in numerous bacteria thriving in very different environments, such as those living at the host–pathogen interface, but also in the soil. We additionally established a phylogeny of the NAS/cntL gene and, as a result, we propose that this gene is an ancient gene and NA, or its derivatives, is an ancient metallophore that played a prominent role in metal acquisition or metal resistance. Indeed, our phylogenetic analysis suggests an evolutionary model where the possibility to synthesize this metallophore was present early in the appearance of life, although it was later lost by most living microorganisms, unless facing metal starvation such as at the host–pathogen interface or in some soils. According to our model, NA then re-emerged as a central metabolite for metal homeostasis in fungi, mosses and all known higher plants.