During much of the past century, the microbe itself stood at the heart of microbial pathogenesis. Little thought was devoted to the host per se, though it was granted that differences in susceptibility to certain infections did exist between individuals, and between different ethnic groups. During the past 20 years, extraordinary strides in our grasp of mammalian genetics have made the host side of the equation far more approachable. A restricted collection of genes now presents itself as the likely repository for genetic differences that foretell susceptibility to infectious disease. The Toll-like receptors, of which 10 are presently known to exist in humans, offer an excellent example of this genetic reductionism, in that they embody the afferent component of the innate immune system, and strongly influence the containment of an infection from its earliest stages. The Toll-like receptors were identified as the culmination of a long and relentless inquiry into the yet-unsolved clinical problem of sepsis.