Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) produces a leucine-derived cyanogenic beta-D-glucoside, epiheterodendrin that accumulates specifically in leaf epidermis. Barley leaves are not cyanogenic, i.e. they do not possess the ability to release hydrogen cyanide, because they lack a cyanide releasing beta-D-glucosidase. Cyanogenesis was reconstituted in barley leaf epidermal cells through single cell expression of a cDNA encoding dhurrinase-2, a cyanogenic beta-D-glucosidase from sorghum. This resulted in a 35-60% reduction in colonization rate by an obligate parasite Blumeria graminis f. sp. hordei, the causal agent of barley powdery mildew. A database search for barley homologues of dhurrinase-2 identified a (1,4)-beta-D-glucan exohydrolase isozyme betaII that is located in the starchy endosperm of barley grain. The purified barley (1,4)-beta-D-glucan exohydrolase isozyme betaII was found to hydrolyze the cyanogenic beta-D-glucosides, epiheterodendrin and dhurrin. Molecular modelling of its active site based on the crystal structure of linamarase from white clover, demonstrated that the disposition of the catalytic active amino acid residues was structurally conserved. Epiheterodendrin stimulated appressoria and appressorial hook formation of B. graminis in vitro, suggesting that loss of cyanogenesis in barley leaves has enabled the fungus to utilize the presence of epiheterodendrin to facilitate host recognition and to establish infection.