We previously described a Tn5 mutant of Rhizobium etli strain CE3, designated CE3003, that is decreased in nodulation competitiveness, reduced in competitive growth in the rhizosphere, and has a hydrophobic cell surface (R. S. Araujo, E. A. Robleto, and J. Handelsman, Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 60:1430-1436, 1994). To determine the molecular basis for the mutant phenotypes, we identified a 1.2-kb fragment of DNA derived from the parent that restored the wild-type phenotypes to the mutant. DNA sequence analysis indicated that this 1.2-kb fragment contained a single open reading frame that we designated rosR. The Tn5 insertion in CE3003 was within rosR. We constructed a derivative of CE3 that contained a deletion in rosR, and this mutant was phenotypically indistinguishable from CE3003 in cell surface and competitive characteristics. Based on the nucleotide sequence, the deduced RosR amino acid sequence is 80% identical to that of the Ros protein from Agrobacterium tumefaciens and the MucR protein from Rhizobium meliloti. Both Ros and MucR are transcriptional repressors that contain a putative zinc-finger DNA-binding domain. This study defines a gene, rosR, that is homologous to a family of transcriptional regulators and contributes to nodulation competitiveness of R. etli. Moreover, we established that a single gene affects nodulation competitiveness, competitive growth in the rhizosphere, and cell surface hydrophobicity.