The filamentous bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor undergoes a complex process of morphological differentiation involving the formation of a dense lawn of aerial hyphae that grow away from the colony surface into the air to form an aerial mycelium. Bald mutants of S. coelicolor, which are blocked in aerial mycelium formation, regain the capacity to erect aerial structures when exposed to a small hydrophobic protein called SapB, whose synthesis is temporally and spatially correlated with morphological differentiation. We now report that SapB is a surfactant that is capable of reducing the surface tension of water from 72 mJ m-2 to 30 mJ m-2 at a concentration of 50 microgram ml-1. We also report that SapB, like the surface-active peptide streptofactin produced by the species S. tendae, was capable of restoring the capacity of bald mutants of S. tendae to erect aerial structures. Strikingly, a member (SC3) of the hydrophobin family of fungal proteins involved in the erection of aerial hyphae in the filamentous fungus Schizophyllum commune was also capable of restoring the capacity of S. coelicolor and S. tendae bald mutants to erect aerial structures. SC3 is unrelated in structure to SapB and streptofactin but, like the streptomycetes proteins, the fungal protein is a surface active agent. Scanning electron microscopy revealed that aerial structures produced in response to both the bacterial or the fungal proteins were undifferentiated vegetative hyphae that had grown away from the colony surface but had not commenced the process of spore formation. We conclude that the production of SapB and streptofactin at the start of morphological differentiation contributes to the erection of aerial hyphae by decreasing the surface tension at the colony surface but that subsequent morphogenesis requires additional developmentally regulated events under the control of bald genes.