We are gaining an understanding of the molecular basis of resistance specificity and of the natural processes that generate different specificities. This is a prerequisite for the genetic engineering of new plant disease-resistance genes to control diseases for which naturally occurring resistance is inadequate. DNA sequence analysis indicates that point mutation, recombination and selection can generate and maintain the high levels of polymorphism observed in resistance genes. Comparisons of closely related resistance proteins indicate that specificity can be determined by variation in at least two regions. One of these contains leucine-rich repeats, which are a common feature of most resistance proteins.