Novel approaches to modify disease resistance or susceptibility in livestock are justified not only by economical reasons and with respect to animal welfare but also by recent advancements in molecular genetics. The control or elimination of infectious pathogens in farm animals is historically achieved by the use of vaccines and drugs and by quarantine safeguards and eradication. Currently, research on the improvement of disease resistance based on nucleic acid technology focuses on two main issues: additive gene transfer and the development of nucleic acid vaccines. The strategies aim at the stable or transient expression of components known to influence non-specific or specific host defence mechanisms against infectious pathogens. Thus, candidates for gene transfer experiments include all genes inducing or conferring innate and acquired immunity as well as specific disease resistance genes. Referring to the site and mode of action and the source of the effective agent the strategies are termed 'intracellular', 'genetic' and 'congenital' immunisation. The targeted disruption (deletive gene transfer) of disease susceptibility genes awaits the establishment of totipotential embryonic cell lineages in farm animals. The cytokine network regulates cellular viability, growth and differentiation in physiological and pathophysiological states. The identification of the JAK-STAT pathway used by many cytokines for their intracellular signal propagation has provided not only new target molecules for modulating the immune response but will also permit the further elucidation of host-pathogen interactions and resistance mechanisms.