This article reviews recent advances that shed light on plant disease resistance genes, beginning with a brief overview of their structure, followed by their genomic organization and evolution. Plant disease resistance genes have been exhaustively investigated in terms of their structural organization, sequence evolution and genome distribution. There are probably hundreds of NBS-LRR sequences and other types of R-gene-like sequences within a typical plant genome. Recent studies revealed positive selection and selective maintenance of variation in plant resistance and defence-related genes. Plant resistance genes are highly polymorphic and have diverse recognition specificities. R-genes occur as members of clustered gene families that have evolved through duplication and diversification. These genes appear to evolve more rapidly than other regions of the genome, and domains such as the leucine-rich repeat, are subject to adaptive selection.