The ability of the facultative photoheterotroph Rhodobacter sphaeroides to tolerate and reduce high levels of tellurite in addition to at least 10 other rare earth metal oxides and oxyanions has considerable potential for detoxification and bioremediation of contaminated environments. We report the identification and characterization of two loci involved in high-level tellurite resistance. The first locus contains four genes, two of which, trgAB, confer increased tellurite resistance when introduced into the related bacterium Paracoccus denitrificans. The trgAB-derived products display no significant homology to known proteins, but both are likely to be membrane-associated proteins. Immediately downstream of trgB, the cysK (cysteine synthase) and orf323 genes were identified. Disruption of the cysK gene resulted in decreased tellurite resistance in R. sphaeroides, confirming earlier observations on the importance of cysteine metabolism for high-level tellurite resistance. The second locus identified is represented by the telA gene, which is separated from trgAB by 115 kb. The telA gene product is 65% similar to the product of the klaB (telA) gene from the tellurite-resistance-encoding kilA operon from plasmid RK2. The genes immediately linked to the R. sphaeroides telA gene have no similarity to other components of the kilA operon. R. sphaeroides telA could not functionally substitute for the plasmid RK2 telA gene, indicating substantial functional divergence between the two gene products. However, inactivation of R. sphaeroides telA resulted in a significant decrease in tellurite resistance compared to the wild-type strain. Both cysK and telA null mutations readily gave rise to suppressors, suggesting that the phenomenon of high-level tellurite resistance in R. sphaeroides is complex and other, as yet uncharacterized, loci may be involved.