Type-4 fimbriae are filamentous polar organelles which are found in a wide variety of pathogenic bacteria. Their biogenesis and function is proving to be extremely complex, involving the expression and coordinate regulation of a large number of genes. Type-4 fimbriae mediate attachment to host epithelial tissues and a form of surface translocation called twitching motility. In Pseudomonas aeruginosa they also appear to function as receptors for fimbrial-dependent bacteriophages. Analysis of mutants defective in fimbrial function has allowed the identification of many of the genes involved in the biogenesis of these organelles. Thus far over 30 genes have been characterized, which fall into two broad categories: those encoding regulatory networks that control the production and function of these fimbriae (and other virulence determinants such as alginate) in response to alterations in environmental conditions; and those encoding proteins involved in export and assembly of these organelles, many of which are similar to proteins involved in protein secretion and DNA uptake. These systems all appear to be closely related and to function in the assembly of surface-associated protein complexes that have been adapted to different biological functions.