Interactions which violate the conservation of baryon and lepton number represent an intrinsic part of all grand unified theories (GUTs) of strong and electroweak interactions. These new interactions — predicted within the framework of GUTs — generate B and L violating four-fermion interactions via the exchange of superheavy particles which cannot be ascribed a well-defined baryon or lepton number. The effective coupling constant of these four-fermion interactions might be large enough to make the proton decay detectable by the present generation of experiments.
In this review the basic concepts of conventional as well as supersymmetric GUTs relevant for proton decay are sketched. The baryon number violating sector of grand unified theories is discussed in more detail. Special emphasis is laid on the various selection rules arising as consequences of low-energy gauge invariance and supersymmetry for proton decay. These selection rules already determine the coarse pattern of the resulting decay modes and branching ratios without any reference to or detailed knowledge of the underlying grand unified theory. Finally the numerous theoretical predictions are summarized and confronted with experiment.