L-Ornithine production in the alfalfa microsymbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti occurs as an intermediate step in arginine biosynthesis. Ornithine is required for effective symbiosis but its synthesis in S. meliloti has been little studied. Unlike most bacteria, S. meliloti 1021 is annotated as encoding two enzymes producing ornithine: N-acetylornithine (NAO) deacetylase (ArgE) hydrolyses NAO to acetate and ornithine, and glutamate N-acetyltransferase (ArgJ) transacetylates l-glutamate with the acetyl group from NAO, forming ornithine and N-acetylglutamate (NAG). NAG is the substrate for the second step of arginine biosynthesis catalysed by NAG kinase (ArgB). Inactivation of argB in strain 1021 resulted in arginine auxotrophy. The activity of purified ArgB was significantly inhibited by arginine but not by ornithine. The purified ArgJ was highly active in NAO deacetylation/glutamate transacetylation and was significantly inhibited by ornithine but not by arginine. The purified ArgE protein (with a 6His-Sumo affinity tag) was also active in deacetylating NAO. argE and argJ single mutants, and an argEJ double mutant, are arginine prototrophs. Extracts of the double mutant contained aminoacylase (Ama) activity that deacetylated NAO to form ornithine. The purified products of three candidate ama genes (smc00682 (hipO1), smc02256 (hipO2) and smb21279) all possessed NAO deacetylase activity. hipO1 and hipO2, but not smb21279, expressed in trans functionally complemented an Escherichia coli ΔargE : : Km mutant. We conclude that Ama activity accounts for the arginine prototrophy of the argEJ mutant. Transcriptional assays of argB, argE and argJ, fused to a promoterless gusA gene, showed that their expression was not significantly affected by exogenous arginine or ornithine.