The genetic transformation of plant cells by Agrobacterium tumefaciens is mediated by the genes of the Ti plasmid vir region. To determine the genetic and transcriptional organization of the vir region of pTiA6, vir plasmid clones were saturated with insertion mutations of a Tn3-lacZ transposon. This element is both an insertion mutagen and a reporter for the expression of the sequences into which it has inserted. One hundred and twenty-four vir::Tn3-lac insertions were analyzed for their mutagenic effect on Agrobacterium virulence, and for their expression of beta-galactosidase activity, the lacZ gene product, in vegetative bacteria and in bacteria cocultivated with plant cells. These data in conjunction with genetic complementation results show that the pTiA6 vir region contains six distinct vir complementation groups: virA, virB, virC, virD, virE and virG. Mutations in these loci eliminate (virA, virB, virD and virG) or significantly restrict (virC and virE) the ability of Agrobacterium to transform plant cells. Each of the vir loci corresponds to a single vir transcription unit: virA is constitutively expressed and non-inducible; virB, virC, virD and virE are expressed only upon activation by plant cells; and virG is both constitutively expressed and plant-inducible. The two largest vir operons, virB and virD, are probably polycistronic. The pTiA6 vir region also contains plant-inducible loci (pin) which are non-essential for virulence.