Protein fusion with the Escherichia coli alkaline phosphatase is used extensively for the analysis of the topology of membrane proteins. To study the topology of the Agrobacterium T-DNA transfer proteins, we constructed a transposon, Tn3phoA. The transposon mobilizes into plasmids at a high frequency, is stable after transposition, can produce phoA translational fusions and can be used for the analysis of protein topology directly in the bacterium of interest. For studies on the DNA transfer proteins, an Agrobacterium strain deficient in phoA under our experimental conditions was constructed by chemical mutagenesis. A plasmid containing virB and virD4 was used as a target for mutagenesis. Twenty-eight unique phoA-positive clones that mapped to eight virB genes were isolated. Multiple insertions throughout VirB1, VirB5, VirB7, VirB9 and VirB10 indicated that these proteins primarily face the periplasm. Insertions in VirB2, VirB6 and VirB8 allowed the identification of their periplasmic domains. No insertions were found in VirB3, VirB4 and VirB11. These proteins either lack or have a short periplasmic domain. No insertions mapped to VirD4 either. To study VirD4 topology, targeted phoA fusions and random lacZ fusions were constructed. Analysis of the fusion proteins indicated that VirD4 contains a single periplasmic domain near the N-terminus, and most of the protein lies in the cytoplasm. A hypothetical model for the T-DNA transport pore is presented.