Making a spore in Bacillus subtilis requires the formation of two cells, the forespore and the mother cell, which follow dissimilar patterns of gene expression. Cell specificity is first established in the forespore under the control of the σF factor, which is itself activated through the action of the SpoIIE serine phosphatase, an enzyme targeted to the septum between the two cells. Deletion of the 10 transmembrane segments of the SpoIIE protein leads to random distribution of SpoIIE in the cytoplasm. Activation of σF is slightly delayed and less efficient than in wild type, but it remains restricted to the forespore in a large proportion of cells and the bacteria sporulate with 30% efficiency. Overexpression of the complete SpoIIE protein in a divIC mutant leads to significant σF activity, indicating that the septum requirement for activating σF can be bypassed. In contradiction to current models, we propose that genetic asymmetry is not created by unequal distribution of SpoIIE within the sporangium, but by exclusion of an inhibitor of SpoIIE from the forespore. This putative inhibitor would be a cytoplasmic molecule that interacts with SpoIIE and shuts off its phosphatase activity until it disappears specifically from the forespore.