MreB shares a common prokaryotic ancestor with actin and is present in almost all rod-shaped bacteria. MreB proteins have been implicated in a range of important cell processes, including cell morphogenesis, chromosome segregation and cell polarity. The mreB gene frequently lies at the beginning of a cluster of genes, immediately upstream of the conserved mreC and mreD genes. RNA analysis showed that in Bacillus subtilis mreB is co-transcribed with mreC and that these genes form part of an operon under the control of a promoter(s) upstream of mreB. Construction of an in-frame deletion of mreB and its complementation by mreB(+) only, in trans, established that the gene is important for maintenance of cell width and cell viability under normal growth conditions, independent of polar effects on downstream genes. Remarkably, virtually normal growth was restored to the mreB null mutant in the presence of high concentrations of magnesium, especially when high concentrations of the osmoprotectant, sucrose were also present. Under these conditions, cells could be maintained in the complete absence of an mreB gene, with almost normal morphology. No detectable effect on chromosome segregation was evident in the mutant, nor was there an effect on the topology of nascent peptidoglycan insertion. A GFP-MreB fusion was used to look at the localization of MreB in live cells. The pattern of localization was similar to that previously described, but no tight linkage to nucleoid positioning was evident. Propagation of the mreB null mutant in the absence of magnesium and sucrose led to a progressive increase in cell width, culminating in cell lysis. Cell division was also perturbed but this effect may be secondary to the disturbance in cell width. These results suggest that the major role of MreB in B. subtilis lies in the control of cell diameter.