More than 30 genes have been characterized from different plant species that provide resistance to a variety of different pathogen and pest species. The structures of most are consistent with a role in pathogen recognition and defense response signaling. Resistance genes are very abundant in plant genomes and most belong to tightly linked gene families. Evolution of R genes is driven by selection on allelic variation created by mutation and re-assorted by recombination between alleles and sometimes between different gene family members. Selection favors genes that can recognize pathogen avr gene products that are present in pathogen populations. Selection at linked gene families favors haplotypes with useful combinations of genes but a limited physiological cost to the plant. Future utilization of R genes will include transfer between related genera and identification or construction of genes that condition durable resistance to variable pathogens. Genes with durable resistance may interact with conserved pathogen elicitors or condition resistance responses that are independent of specific Avr gene interactions.