Salt tolerance of crops could be improved by genetic engineering if basic questions on mechanisms of salt toxicity and defense responses could be solved at the molecular level. Mutant plants accumulating proline and transgenic plants engineered to accumulate mannitol or fructans exhibit improved salt tolerance. A target of salt toxicity has been identified in Saccharomyces cerevisiae: it is a sodium-sensitive nucleotidase involved in sulfate activation and encoded by the HAL2 gene. The major sodium-extrusion system of S. cerevisiae is a P-ATPase encoded by the ENA1 gene. The regulatory system of ENA1 expression includes the protein phosphatase calcineurin and the product of the HAL3 gene. In Escherichia coli, the Na(+)-H+ antiporter encoded by the nhaA gene is essential for salt tolerance. No sodium transport system has been identified at the molecular level in plants. Ion transport at the vacuole is of crucial importance for salt accumulation in this compartment, a conspicuous feature of halophytic plants. The primary sensors of osmotic stress have been identified only in E. coli. In S. cerevisiae, a protein kinase cascade (the HOG pathway) mediates the osmotic induction of many, but not all, stress-responsive genes. In plants, the hormone abscisic acid mediates many stress responses and both a protein phosphatase and a transcription factor (encoded by the ABI1 and ABI3 genes, respectively) participate in its action.