Disease-resistance genes introduced into cultivated plants are often rendered ineffective by the ability of pathogen populations to overcome host resistance. The bacterial pathogen Xanthomonas campestris pathovar vesicatoria causes bacterial spot disease of tomato and pepper, and this pathogen has been shown to overcome disease resistance in pepper (Capsicum annuum) by evading the recognition and defence response of the host plant. Numerous resistance genes to bacterial spot have been identified in pepper and its wild relatives, each providing resistance to specific races of X.c. vesicatoria. The resistance gene Bs1, for example, provides resistance to X.c. vesicatoria strains expressing the avirulence gene avrBs1; Bs2 provides resistance to stains expressing avrBs2 and so on. We now report that avr Bs2 is highly conserved among strains of X.c. vesicatoria, and among many other pathovars of X. campestris. Furthermore, we find that avrBs2 is in fact needed for full virulence of the pathogen on susceptible hosts. This implies that plants carrying Bs2 can recognize an essential gene of the bacterial pathogen, which may explain why Bs2 confers the only effective field resistance to X.c. vesicatoria in pepper.