Gray leaf spot of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) is a severe foliar disease caused by the ascomycete fungus Magnaporthe oryzae (formerly known as Magnaporthe grisea). Control of gray leaf spot is completely dependent on the use of fungicides because currently available perennial ryegrass cultivars lack genetic resistance to this disease. M. oryzae isolates from perennial ryegrass (prg) were unable to cause disease on rice cultivars CO39 and 51583, and instead triggered a hypersensitive response. Southern hybridization analysis of DNA from over 50 gray leaf spot isolates revealed that all of them contain sequences corresponding to AVR1-CO39, a host specificity gene that confers avirulence to rice cultivar CO39, which carries the corresponding resistance gene Pi-CO39(t). There was also an almost complete lack of restriction site polymorphism at the avirulence locus. Cloning and sequencing of the AVR1-CO39 gene (AVR1-CO39Lp) from 16 different gray leaf spot isolates revealed just two point mutations, both of which were located upstream of the predicted open reading frame. When an AVR1-CO39Lp gene copy was transferred into ML33, a rice pathogenic isolate that is highly virulent to rice cultivar CO39, the transformants were unable to cause disease on CO39 but retained their virulence to 51583, a rice cultivar that lacks Pi-CO39(t). These data demonstrate that the AVR1-CO39 gene in the gray leaf spot pathogens is functional, and suggest that interaction of AVR1-CO39Lp and Pi-CO39(t) is responsible, at least in part, for the host specificity expressed on CO39. This indicates that it may be possible to use the Pi-CO39(t) resistance gene as part of a transgenic strategy to complement the current deficiency of gray leaf spot resistance in prg. Furthermore, our data indicate that, if Pi-CO39(t) can function in prg, the resistance provided should be broadly effective against a large proportion of the gray leaf spot pathogen population.