Conjugal transfer of Ti plasmids from Agrobacterium donors to bacterial recipients is controlled by two types of diffusible signal molecules. Induction is mediated by novel compounds, called opines, that are secreted by crown gall tumours. These neoplasias result from infection of susceptible plants by virulent agrobacteria. The second diffusible signal, called conjugation factor, is synthesized by the donor bacteria themselves. Production of this factor is induced by the opine. Here we show that conjugation is regulated directly by a transcriptional activator, TraR, which requires conjugation factor as a coinducer to activate tra gene expression. TraR is a homologue of LuxR, the lux gene activator from Vibrio fischeri which also requires an endogenously synthesized diffusible coinducer. The two regulatory systems are related; the two activator proteins show amino-acid sequence similarities and the lux system cofactor, autoinducer, will substitute for conjugation factor in the TraR-dependent activation of Ti plasmid tra genes.