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Summary In a few plant pathosystems, defeated major genes have been shown to contribute to partial resistance to disease. This hypothesis has never been tested before in a forest tree, but pathogenic variation associated with recent hybridization in poplar rust in the Pacific northwest provided an opportunity. An F2 progeny of 256 poplar clones in the field near Corvallis, Oregon, USA, has been monitored for rust severity and infection type since the advent of the new hybrid rust, Melampsora × columbiana, in the mid-1990s. All 256 clones displayed a susceptible infection type in 1997 and again in 2000, and yet variation in uredinial density (i.e. partial resistance) was still observed. To determine which clones possessed a defeated resistance gene, a greenhouse inoculation was performed with an isolate of M. medusae, one of the parents of M. × columbiana. Clones that would have been resistant to M. medusae, prior to the advent of M. × columbiana, were thus identified. The inoculation resulted in a 1 : 1 segregation (2=0.772; p=0.38) for resistance, indicating the presence of a major gene. However, the F2 clones possessing the defeated resistance gene displayed the same level of partial resistance in the field in both 1997 and 2000 as their full siblings lacking the gene.