Previous studies of the upstream region of the pyrE gene in Escherichia coli revealed three genes of unknown function. Inactivation of these genes (designated orfE, orfX and orfY) by crossing the KmR-cassette-disrupted orf into the chromosome indicated that they were not required during exponential growth (Poulsen et al., Mol., Microbiol., 1989 b). Here we report that the three genes are of importance in the stationary phase. Thus, cultures of the mutants grown to a stationary state in rich media contained bacterial filaments of abnormal morphology. In addition, flow cytometric analyses showed that outgrown cultures of the orf mutants have anomalous size distribution and DNA content, and that rifampicin treatment of exponentially growing mutants results in cell populations with chromosome numbers in the range from about 1 to 10, compared with wild type strains that end up with 4 and 8 full chromosomes. Finally, it appeared that the three orf's are indispensable at high temperatures since the insertion mutants were unable to form colonies above 45 degrees C and since cultures of exponentially growing mutants lysed upon a temperature shift from 37 degrees C to 45 degrees C.