There is substantial variation among individuals in susceptibility to a wide variety of parasitic diseases and part of this variation in susceptibility is due to genetic factors. The challenge now is to determine the best methods of using the variation to improve our understanding of parasitic infection and to reduce the ravages of parasitic disease. Scientific and commercial applications will depend upon the type of genetic variation. Variation among breeds can be easily exploited by a policy of breed substitution. Variation within a breed can be exploited by selective breeding to improve resistance to infection or to disease, but more work is needed to develop selection indices which are acceptable to livestock breeders. Identifying genes which contribute to the variation in resistance provides a better understanding of the mechanisms of resistance but more work is needed to determine if such genes, alone or in combination, account for a sufficient proportion of the variation in resistance to allow marker assisted selection. A comparison of responses in susceptible and resistant stock provides a powerful tool to distinguish among protective, irrelevant and pathological responses. These themes have been illustrated by three studies of gastrointestinal nematode infections in ruminants.