In vivo and in vitro studies have suggested that the bacterial version of the mammalian signal recognition particle (SRP) system plays an essential and selective role in protein biogenesis. The bacterial SRP system consists of at least two proteins and an RNA molecule (termed Ffh, FtsY and 4.5S RNA, respectively, in Escherichia coli). Recent evidence suggests that other putative bacterial-specific SRP components may also exist. In vitro experiments confirmed the expected basic features of the bacterial SRP system by demonstrating interactions among the SRP components themselves, between them and ribosomes, ribosome-linked hydrophobic nascent polypeptides or inner membranes. The availability of a conserved (and essential) bacterial SRP version has facilitated the implementation of powerful genetic and biochemical approaches for studying the cascade of events during the SRP-mediated targeting process in vivo and in vitro as well as the three-dimensional structures and the properties of each SRP component and complex.