The function of the Rhizobium meliloti bacA gene, which is a homolog of the Escherichia coli sbmA gene, is required for an intermediate step in nodule development. A strain carrying the bacA386::TnphoA fusion was mutagenized with N-methyl-N'-nitro-N-nitrosoguanidine, and three mutants that had higher levels of alkaline phosphatase activity were identified. The mutations in these strains were recessive and mapped to the same genetic locus. The gene affected by these mutations was identified and sequenced and was found to he a homolog of the E. coli degP gene, which encodes a periplasmic endopeptidase. Although degP function is important for the virulence of certain intracellular pathogens of mammals, it is not required for the R. meliloti-alfalfa symbiosis. The genetic analyses involving degP were complicated by the presence of a locus immediately upstream of degP that was lethal when present in multiple copies in a DegP- background. R. meliloti derivatives carrying insertion mutations in this locus displayed an N,N,N',N'-tetramethyl-p-phenylenediamine oxidase-negative phenotype, elicited the formation of white cylindrical nodules that did not fix nitrogen, and grew slowly in rich medium, suggesting that the locus was a cyc gene encoding a protein involved in the biosynthesis of a component or components of a respiratory chain. The previously identified fix-382::TnphoA, which similarly causes the formation of white cylindrical nodules that do not fix nitrogen, was shown to affect a gene that is separate from this cyc gene but extremely closely linked to it.