An important recent advance in the field of plant–microbe interactions has been the cloning of genes that confer resistance to specific viruses, bacteria, fungi or nematodes. Disease resistance (R) genes encode proteins with predicted structural motifs consistent with them having roles in signal recognition and transduction. The future challenge is to understand how R gene products specifically perceive defence–eliciting signals from the pathogen and transduce those signals to pathways that lead to the activation of plant defence responses. In tomatoes, the Pto kinase (product of the Pto R gene) confers resistance to strains of the bacterial speck pathogen, Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato, that carry the corresponding avirulence gene avrPto. Resistance to bacterial speck disease is initiated by a mechanism involving the physical interaction of the Pto kinase and the AvrPto protein. This recognition event initiates signalling events that lead to defence responses including an oxidative burst, the hypersensitive response and expression of pathogenesis–related genes. Pto–interacting (Pti) proteins have been identified that appear to act downstream of the Pto kinase and our current studies are directed at elucidating the roles of these components.