Dipicolinic acid (DPA) is a small polar molecule that accumulates to high concentrations in bacterial endospores, and is thought to play a role in spore heat resistance, or the maintenance of heat resistance. Previous work has shown that mutations in the spoVF locus of Bacillus subtilis prevent the formation of DPA, and give rise to heat-sensitive spores. Addition of exogenous DPA during spore development led to the restoration of heat resistance. This suggested that the spoVF locus encoded dipicolinic acid synthetase, the enzyme thought to catalyse the single reaction needed to synthesise DPA from dihydroxydipicolinic acid, an intermediate in the lysine biosynthetic pathway. We have now cloned and sequenced the spoVF locus of Bacillus subtilis and show that it comprises two coordinately regulated genes, now designated dpaA and dpaB. Expression of fragments of the dpa operon in Escherichia coli has shown that the two gene products together specify DPA synthetase activity. The promoter of the dpa operon, which lies just upstream of the first gene, has been identified by primer extension analysis. Sequences in this region show strong sequence similarity to several promoters recognized by the sigma K form of RNA polymerase. Transcription from this promoter was detected four hours after the onset of sporulation, at about the same time that sigma K activity is known to appear. Furthermore, transcription was abolished by mutations in a series of genes that are known to be required for the synthesis of active sigma K. These results are in accordance with previous work indicating that DPA synthetase activity was present only during the late stages of sporulation and specifically in the mother cell compartment. Transcription was enhanced by a gerE mutation, indicating that, like the previously described cotA gene, spoVF is negatively regulated by GerE. The mother-cell-specific synthesis of an enzyme responsible for a compound that accumulates to high concentrations in the prespore raises interesting questions about intercellular transport mechanisms.