An acidic lipopeptide A21978C has previously been shown to have a powerful antibiotic activity against Gram-positive organisms. Due to its ability to increase the K+ permeability of bacterial cells and its specific calcium requirement, which is similar to a previously described ionophore CDA, its effect on planar bilayer membranes has been studied. Although it produces significant increases in the conductivity of lipid bilayers it is shown that this alone cannot account for its in vivo activity. Similarly, unlike the in vivo results, the Ca2+-induced increases in bilayer conductivity can be mimicked by Mg2+ and charged lipids. Results from a series of homologues differing in the length of the acyl moiety show a close similarity between bilayer conductance and LD50 trends from in vivo studies. A complex activity is proposed which depends upon incorporation in, rather than disruption of, the bilayer membrane.