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Metals play essential roles in many biological processes but are toxic when present in excess. This makes their transport and homoeostatic control of particular importance to living organisms. Within the context of plant–pathogen interactions the availability and toxicity of transition metals can have a substantial impact on disease development. Metals are essential for defensive generation of reactive oxygen species and other plant defences and can be used directly to limit pathogen growth. Metal-based antimicrobials are used in agriculture to control plant disease, and there is increasing evidence that metal hyperaccumulating plants use accumulated metal to limit pathogen growth. Pathogens and hosts compete for available metals, with plants possessing mechanisms to withhold essential metals from invading microbes. Pathogens, meanwhile, use low-metal conditions as a signal to recognise and respond to the host environment. Consequently, metal-sensing systems such as fur (iron) and zur (zinc) regulate the expression of pathogenicity and virulence genes; and pathogens have developed sophisticated strategies to acquire metal during growth in plant tissues, including the production of multiple siderophores. This review explores the impact of transition metals on the processes that determine the outcome of bacterial infection in plants, with a particular emphasis on zinc, iron and copper.