The iron-sulfur (Fe-S) cluster, the nonheme-iron cofactor essential for the activity of many proteins, is incorporated into target proteins with the aid of complex machinery. In bacteria, several proteins encoded by the iscRSUA-hscBA-fdx-ORF3 cluster (isc operon) have been proposed to execute crucial tasks in the assembly of Fe-S clusters. To elucidate the in vivo function, we have undertaken a systematic mutational analysis of the genes in the Escherichia coli isc operon. In all functional tests, i.e. growth rate, nutritional requirements and activities of Fe-S enzymes, the inactivation of the iscS gene elicited the most drastic alteration. Strains with mutations in the iscU, hscB, hscA, and fdx genes also exhibited conspicuous phenotypical consequences almost identical to one another. The effect of the inactivation of iscA was small but appreciable on Fe-S enzymes. In contrast, mutants with inactivated iscR or ORF3 showed virtually no differences from wild-type cells. The requirement of iscSUA-hscBA-fdx for the assembly of Fe-S clusters was further confirmed by complementation experiments using a mutant strain in which the entire isc operon was deleted. Our findings support the conclusion that IscS, via cysteine desulfurase activity, provides the sulfur that is subsequently incorporated into Fe-S clusters by assembler machinery comprising of the iscUA-hscBA-fdx gene products. The results presented here indicate crucial roles for IscU, HscB, HscA, and Fdx as central components of the assembler machinery and also provide evidence for interactions among them.