Innate immunity constitutes the first line of defense against attempted microbial invasion, and it is a well-described phenomenon in vertebrates and insects. Recent pioneering work has revealed striking similarities between the molecular organization of animal and plant systems for nonself recognition and anti-microbial defense. Like animals, plants have acquired the ability to recognize invariant pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) that are characteristic of microbial organisms but which are not found in potential host plants. Such structures, also termed general elicitors of plant defense, are often indispensable for the microbial lifestyle and, upon receptor-mediated perception, inevitably betray the invader to the plant's surveillance system. Remarkable similarities have been uncovered in the molecular mode of PAMP perception in animals and plants, including the discovery of plant receptors resembling mammalian Toll-like receptors or cytoplasmic nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain leucine-rich repeat proteins. Moreover, molecular building blocks of PAMP-induced signaling cascades leading to the transcriptional activation of immune response genes are shared among the two kingdoms. In particular, nitric oxide as well as mitogen-activated protein kinase cascades have been implicated in triggering innate immune responses, part of which is the production of antimicrobial compounds. In addition to PAMP-mediated pathogen defense, disease resistance programs are often initiated upon plant-cultivar-specific recognition of microbial race-specific virulence factors, a recognition specificity that is not known from animals.