Plants have developed efficient mechanisms to avoid infection or to mount responses that render them resistant upon attack by a pathogen. One of the best-studied defence mechanisms is based on gene-for-gene resistance through which plants, harbouring specific resistance (R) genes, specifically recognise pathogens carrying matching avirulence (Avr) genes. Here a review of the R genes that have been cloned is given. Although in most cases it is not clear how R gene encoded proteins initiate pathways leading to disease resistance, we will show that there are clear parallels with disease prevention in animal systems. Furthermore, some evolutionary mechanisms acting on R genes to create novel recognitional specificities will be discussed.