The products of the groES and groEL genes of Escherichia coli, constituting the groE operon, are known to be required for growth at high temperature (42 degrees C) and are members of the heat shock regulon. Using a genetic approach, we examined the requirement for these gene products for bacterial growth at low temperature (17 to 30 degrees C). To do this, we constructed various groES groEL heterodiploid derivative strains. By inactivating one of the groE operons by a polar insertion, it was shown by bacteriophage P1 transduction that at least one of the groE genes was essential for growth at low temperature. Further P1 transduction experiments with strains that were heterodiploid for only one of the groE genes demonstrated that both groE gene products were required for growth at low temperature, which suggested a fundamental role for the groE proteins in E. coli growth and physiology.