One stage in the symbiotic interaction between the bacterium Xenorhabdus nematophila and its nematode host, Steinernema carpocapsae, involves the species-specific colonization of the nematode intestinal vesicle by the bacterium. To characterize the bacterial molecular determinants that are essential for vesicle colonization, we adapted and applied a signature-tagged mutagenesis (STM) screen to this system. We identified 15 out of 3000 transposon mutants of X. nematophila with at least a 15-fold reduction in average vesicle colonization. These 15 mutants harbour disruptions in nine separate loci. Three of these loci have predicted open reading frames (ORFs) with similarity to genes (rpoS, rpoE, lrp) encoding regulatory proteins; two have predicted ORFs with similarity to genes (aroA, serC) encoding amino acid biosynthetic enzymes; one, designated nilB (nematode intestine localization), has an ORF with similarity to a gene encoding a putative outer membrane protein (OmpU) in Neisseria; and three, nilA, nilC and nilD, have no apparent homologues in the public database. nilA, nilB and nilC are linked on a single 4 kb locus. nilB and nilC are > 104-fold reduced in their ability to colonize the nematode vesicle and are predicted to encode membrane-localized proteins. The nilD locus contains an extensive repeat region and several small putative ORFs. Other than reduced colonization, the nilB, nilC and nilD mutants did not display alterations in any other phenotype tested, suggesting a specific role for these genes in allowing X. nematophila to associate with the nematode host.