In this study, we report the isolation of a defensin gene, lm-def, isolated from the Andean crop 'maca' (Lepidium meyenii) with activity against the pathogen Phytophthora infestans responsible of late blight disease of the potato and tomato crops. The lm-def gene has been isolated by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using degenerate primers corresponding to conserved regions of 13 plant defensin genes of the Brassicaceae family assuming that defensin genes are highly conserved among cruciferous species. The lm-def gene belongs to a small multigene family of at least 10 members possibly including pseudogenes as assessed by genomic hybridization and nucleotide sequence analyses. The deduced mature Lm-Def peptide is 51 amino acids in length and has 74-94% sequence identity with other plant defensins of the Brassicaceae family. The Lm-Def peptide was produced as a fusion protein using the pET-44a expression vector and purified using an immobilized metal ion affinity chromatography. The recombinant protein (NusA:Lm-Def) exhibited in vitro activity against P. infestans. The NusA:Lm-Def protein caused growth inhibition and hyphal damage at concentration not greater than 0.4 μM. In contrast, the NusA protein alone expressed and purified similarly did not show any activity against P. infestans. Therefore, these results indicate that the lm-def gene isolated from maca belong to the plant defensin family with activity against P. infestans. Its expression in potato, as a transgene, might help to control the late blight disease caused by P. infestans with the advantage of being of plant origin. © 2006 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.