The novel sigma factor (sigma S) encoded by rpoS (katF) is required for induction of many growth phase-regulated genes and expression of a variety of stationary-phase phenotypes in Escherichia coli. Here we demonstrate that wild-type cells exhibit spherical morphology in stationary phase, whereas rpoS mutant cells remain rod shaped and are generally larger. Size reduction of E. coli cells along the growth curve is a continuous and at least biphasic process, the second phase of which is absent in rpoS-deficient cells and correlates with induction of the morphogene bolA in wild-type cells. Stationary-phase induction of bolA is dependent on sigma S. The "gearbox" a characteristic sequence motif present in the sigma S-dependent growth phase- and growth rate-regulated bolAp1 promoter, is not recognized by sigma S, since stationary-phase induction of the mcbA promoter, which also contains a gearbox, does not require sigma S, and other sigma S-controlled promoters do not contain gearboxes. However, good homology to the potential -35 and -10 consensus sequences for sigma S regulation is found in the bolAp1 promoter.