Many destructive diseases of plants and animals are caused by oomycetes, a group of eukaryotic pathogens important to agricultural, ornamental, and natural ecosystems. Understanding the mechanisms underlying oomycete virulence and the genomic processes by which those mechanisms rapidly evolve is essential to developing effective long-term control measures for oomycete diseases. Several common mechanisms underlying oomycete virulence, including protein toxins and cell-entering effectors, have emerged from comparing oomycetes with different genome characteristics, parasitic lifestyles, and host ranges. Oomycete genomes display a strongly bipartite organization in which conserved housekeeping genes are concentrated in syntenic gene-rich blocks, whereas virulence genes are dispersed into highly dynamic, repeat-rich regions. There is also evidence that key virulence genes have been acquired by horizontal transfer from other eukaryotic and prokaryotic species.