Strains of Escherichia coli expressing the K1 polysaccharide capsule colonize the large intestine of newborn infants, and are the leading cause of Gram-negative septicaemia and meningitis in the neonatal period. We used signature-tagged mutagenesis (STM) to identify genes that E. coli K1 requires to colonize the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. A total of 2140 mTn5 mutants was screened for their capacity to colonize the GI tract of infant rats, and 16 colonization defective mutants were identified. The mutants have transposon insertions in genes affecting the synthesis of cell surface structures, membrane transporters, transcriptional regulators, enzymes in metabolic pathways, and in genes of unknown function, designated dgc (defective in GI colonization). Three dgcs are absent from the whole genome sequence of E. coli K-12, although related sequences are found in other pathogenic strains of E. coli and in Shigella flexneri. Additionally, immunohistochemistry was used to define the nature of the colonization defect in five mutants including all dgc mutants. STM was successfully applied to examine the factors involved in E. coli K1 colonization, and the findings are relevant to the pathogenesis of other enteric infections.