Recently, two novel but widespread themes have emerged in the field of bacterial virulence: type III secretion systems and pathogenicity islands. Type III secretion systems, which are found in various gram-negative organisms, are specialized for the export of virulence factors delivered directly to host cells. These factors subvert normal host cell functions in ways that seem beneficial to invading bacteria. The genes encoding several type III secretion systems reside on pathogenicity islands, which are inserted DNA segments within the chromosome that confer upon the host bacterium a variety of virulence traits, such as the ability to acquire iron and to adhere to or enter host cells. Many of these segments of DNA appear to have been acquired in a single step from a foreign source. The ability to obtain complex virulence traits in one genetic event, rather than by undergoing natural selection for many generations, provides a mechanism for sudden radical changes in bacterial-host interactions. Type III secretion systems and pathogenicity islands must have played critical roles in the evolution of known pathogens and are likely to lead to the emergence of novel infectious diseases in the future.