Farmers have used metal compounds in phytosanitary treatments for more than a century; however, it has recently been suggested that plants absorb high concentrations of metals from the substrate as a self-defense mechanism against pathogens and herbivores. This metal defense hypothesis is among the most attractive proposals for the 'reason to be' of metal hyperaccumulator species. On a molecular basis, metal defense against biotic stress seems to imply common and/or complementary pathways of signal perception, signal transduction and metabolism. This does not imply a broad band of co-resistance to different stress types but reflects a continuous cross talk during the coevolution of plants, pathogens and herbivores competing in an environment where efficient metal ion acquisition and ion homeostasis are essential for survival. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.