Access to mineral nitrogen often limits plant growth, and so symbiotic relationships have evolved between plants and a variety of nitrogen-fixing organisms. These associations are responsible for reducing 120 million tonnes of atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia each year. In agriculture, independence from nitrogenous fertilizers expands crop production and minimizes pollution of water tables, lakes and rivers. Here we present the complete nucleotide sequence and gene complement of the plasmid from Rhizobium sp. NGR234 that endows the bacterium with the ability to associate symbiotically with leguminous plants. In conjunction with transcriptional analyses, these data demonstrate the presence of new symbiotic loci and signalling mechanisms. The sequence and organization of genes involved in replication and conjugal transfer are similar to those of Agrobacterium, suggesting a recent lateral transfer of genetic information.