Brucella spp. are Gram-negative, facultative intracellular bacteria that cause a zoonotic world-wide disease. As in other Gram-negative bacteria, its S-LPS (smooth lipopolysaccharide) is a major determinant of virulence. The Brucella melitensis 16M LPS O-antigen is a homopolymer of 4-formamido-4,6, dideoxymannose. In this study, the previously cloned 14-kb wbk gene cluster was sequenced, and seven open reading frames (ORFs) as well as four insertion sequences were identified. Six of the seven ORFs are homologous to LPS biosynthesis genes from other organisms. The gmd, per and wbkC gene products are predicted to be involved in 4-formamido-4,6,dideoxymannose synthesis. By deletion experiments, we demonstrated that the putative formyltransferase WbkC is absolutely required for the O-side-chain production. The wbkA gene product is similar to several mannosyltransferases and is probably involved in the polymerisation of the B. melitensis O-side-chain. We also identified two genes (wzm and wzt) encoding proteins with high similarity to several two-component ABC (ATP-binding cassette) transporters. Their implication in O-antigen translocation across the inner membrane was confirmed by gene replacement. Finally, no function has been assigned to the wbkB gene either by homology search or functionally, because deletion of wbkB did not interfere with the O-antigen structure. The seven ORFs have a low G + C content, indicating that they might have been acquired by lateral transfer from a progenitor with more A + T rich DNA.