In order to understand how TEM-1 beta-lactamase substrate specificity can be altered by mutation, amino acid residues 161 through to 170 were randomly mutagenized to sample all possible amino acid substitutions. The 161-170 region includes a portion of an omega loop structure, which is involved in the formation of the active-site pocket. The percentage of random sequences that provide bacterial resistance to either ampicillin or to the extended-spectrum cephalosporin ceftazidime was determined. It was found that the sequence requirements for wild-type levels of ampicillin resistance are much more stringent than the sequence requirements for ceftazidime resistance. Surprisingly, more than 50% of all amino acid substitutions in the 161-170 region result in levels of ceftazidime resistance at least three times greater than wild type. In addition, by increasing the level of the selection for ceftazidime resistance, substitutions that result in a greater than 100-fold increase in ceftazidime resistance were identified. Characterization of altered beta-lactamase enzymes indicated that while their catalytic efficiency (kcat/Km) for ceftazidime hydrolysis is higher, the enzymes are poorly expressed relative to wild-type TEM-1 beta-lactamase.