A set of isogenic mutants of Bacillus subtilis 168, insertionally inactivated in the genes encoding a number of lytic enzymes and a sigma factor (sigma D, which controls the expression of a number of autolysins) was constructed. Phenotypic analysis of the mutants determined the individual and combined roles of the autolysins in vegetative growth. The major vegetative autolysins of B. subtilis, LytC (50 kDa amidase) and LytD (90 kDa glucosaminidase), were shown to have roles in cell separation, cell wall turnover, antibiotic-induced lysis and motility. LytC was also shown to have a role in general cell lysis induced by sodium azide. Renaturing SDS-PAGE of cell-wall-binding protein extracts of the mutant strains revealed the presence of a novel autolysin that was previously masked by LytC. This 49 kDa enzyme was shown to be sigma D-controlled and was identified as a candidate cell separation and cell wall turnover enzyme. A multiple mutant strain, lacking LytC, LytD and the 49 kDa enzyme, retained at least ten bands of autolytic activity. These may correspond to individual or proteolytically processed novel autolysins, the functions of which are unknown. The multiple mutant strains facilitate the study of these, and other lytic enzymes, to determine their cellular functions.