Biosynthesis of the compatible solute glycine betaine in Bacillus subtilis confers a considerable degree of osmotic tolerance and proceeds via a two-step oxidation process of choline, with glycine betaine aldehyde as the intermediate. We have exploited the sensitivity of B. subtilis strains defective in glycine betaine production against glycine betaine aldehyde to select for mutants resistant to this toxic intermediate. These strains were also defective in choline uptake, and genetic analysis proved that two mutations affecting different genetic loci (opuB and opuC) were required for these phenotypes. Molecular analysis allowed us to demonstrate that the opuB and opuC operons each encode a binding protein-dependent ABC transport system that consists of four components. The presumed binding proteins of both ABC transporters were shown to be lipoproteins. Kinetic analysis of [14C]-choline uptake via OpuB (K(m) = 1 microM; Vmax = 21 nmol min-1 mg-1 protein) and OpuC (K(m) = 38 microM; Vmax = 75 nmol min-1 mg-1 protein) revealed that each of these ABC transporters exhibits high affinity and substantial transport capacity. Western blotting experiments with a polyclonal antiserum cross-reacting with the presumed substrate-binding proteins from both the OpuB and OpuC transporter suggested that the expression of the opuB and opuC operons is regulated in response to increasing osmolality of the growth medium. Primer extension analysis confirmed the osmotic control of opuB and allowed the identification of the promoter of this operon. The opuB and opuC operons are located close to each other on the B. subtilis chromosome, and their high sequence identity strongly suggests that these systems have evolved from a duplication event of a primordial gene cluster. Despite the close relatedness of OpuB and OpuC, these systems exhibit a striking difference in substrate specificity for osmoprotectants that would not have been predicted readily for such closely related ABC transporters.