Bacillus subtilis cells respond almost immediately to different stress conditions by increasing the production of general stress proteins (GSPs). The genes encoding the majority of the GSPs that are induced by heat, ethanol, salt stress or by starvation for glucose, oxygen or phosphate belong to the sigmaB-dependent general stress regulon. Despite a good understanding of the complex regulation of the activity of sigmaB and knowledge of a very large number of general stress genes controlled by sigmaB, first insights into the physiological role of this nonspecific stress response have been obtained only very recently. To explore the physiological role of this reguIon, we and others identified sigmaB-dependent general stress genes and compared the stress tolerance of wild-type cells with mutants lacking sigmaB or general stress proteins. The proteins encoded by sigmaB-dependent general stress genes can be divided into at least five functional groups that most probably provide growth-restricted B. subtilis cells with a multiple stress resistance in anticipation of future stress. In particular, sigB mutants are impaired in non-specific resistance to oxidative stress, which requires the sigmaB-dependent dps gene encoding a DNA-protecting protein. Protection against oxidative damage of membranes, proteins or DNA could be the most essential component of sigmaB mediated general stress resistance in growth-arrested aerobic gram-positive bacteria. Other general stress genes have both a sigmaB-dependent induction pathway and a second sigmaB-independent mechanism of stress induction, thereby partially compensating for a sigmaB deficiency in a sigB mutant. In contrast to sigB mutants, null mutations in genes encoding those proteins, such as cIpP or cIpC, cause extreme sensitivity to salt or heat.