Gene order in bacteria is poorly conserved during evolution. For example, although many homologous genes are shared by the proteobacteria Escherichia coli, Haemophilus influenzae and Helicobacter pylori, their relative positions are very different in each genome, except local functional clusters such as operons. The complete sequences of the more closely related bacterial genomes, such as pairs of Chlamydia, H. pylori and Mycobacterium species, now allow identification of the processes and mechanisms involved in genome evolution. Here we provide evidence that a substantial proportion of rearrangements in gene order results from recombination sites that are determined by the positions of the replication forks. Our observations suggest that replication has a major role in directing genome evolution.