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| A functional and well-balanced immune response is required to resist most infections. Slight dysfunctions in innate immunity can turn the ‘friendly’ host defense into an unpleasant foe and give rise to disease. Beneficial and destructive forces of innate immunity have been discovered in the urinary tract and mechanisms by which they influence the severity of urinary tract infections (UTIs) have been elucidated. By modifying specific aspects of the innate immune response to UTI, genetic variation either exaggerates the severity of acute pyelonephritis to include urosepsis and renal scarring or protects against symptomatic disease by suppressing innate immune signaling, as in asymptomatic bacteriuria (ABU). Different genes are polymorphic in patients prone to acute pyelonephritis or ABU, respectively, and yet discussions of UTI susceptibility in clinical practice still focus mainly on social and behavioral factors or dysfunctional voiding. Is it not time for UTIs to enter the era of molecular medicine? Defining why certain individuals are protected from UTI while others have severe, recurrent infections has long been difficult, but progress is now being made, encouraging new approaches to risk assessment and therapy in this large and important patient group, as well as revealing promising facets of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ inflammation.