Discovery of the extracytoplasmic function sigma factors.

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This special issue of Molecular Microbiology marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the extracytoplasmic function (ECF) σ factors, proteins that subsequently emerged as the largest group of alternative σ factors and one of the three major pillars of signal transduction in bacteria, alongside one- and two-component systems. A single bacterial genome can encode > 100 ECF σ factors, and combined with their cognate anti-σ factors, they represent a modular design that primarily functions in transmembrane signal transduction. Here, we first describe the immediate events that led to the 1994 publication in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences USA, and then set them in the broader context of key events in the history of σ biology research.