The majority of plant disease resistance genes are members of very large multigene families. They encode structurally related proteins containing nucleotide binding site domains (NBS) and C-terminal leucine rich repeats (LRR). The N-terminal region of some resistance genes contain a short sequence called TIR with homology to the animal innate immunity factors, Toll and interleukin receptor-like genes. Only a few plant resistance genes have been functionally analyzed and the origin and evolution of plant resistance genes remain obscure. We have reconstructed gene phylogeny by exhaustive analysis of available genome and amplified NBS domain sequences. Our study shows that NBS domains faithfully predict whole gene structure and can be divided into two major groups. Group I NBS domains contain group-specific motifs that are always linked with the TIR sequence in the N terminus. Significantly, Group I NBS domains and their associated TIR domains are widely distributed in dicot species but were not detected in cereal databases. Furthermore, Group I specific NBS sequences were readily amplified from dicot genomic DNA but could not be amplified from cereal genomic DNA. In contrast, Group II NBS domains are always associated with putative coiled-coil domains in their N terminus and appear to be present throughout the angiosperms. These results suggest that the two main groups of resistance genes underwent divergent evolution in cereal and dicot genomes and imply that their cognate signaling pathways have diverged as well.