The atp operon is highly conserved among eubacteria, and it has been considered a molecular marker as an alternative to the 16S rRNA gene. PCR primers were designed from the consensus sequences of the atpD gene to amplify partial atpD sequences from 12 Bifidobacterium species and nine Lactobacillus species. All PCR products were sequenced and aligned with other atpD sequences retrieved from public databases. Genes encoding the subunits of the F1F0-ATPase of Bifidobacterium lactis DSM 10140 (atpBEFHAGDC) were cloned and sequenced. The deduced amino acid sequences of these subunits showed significant homology with the sequences of other organisms. We identified specific sequence signatures for the genus Bifidobacterium and for the closely related taxa Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium animalis and Lactobacillus gasseri and Lactobacillus johnsonii, which could provide an alternative to current methods for identification of lactic acid bacterial species. Northern blot analysis showed that there was a transcript at approximately 7.3 kb, which corresponded to the size of the atp operon, and a transcript at 4.5 kb, which corresponded to the atpC, atpD, atpG, and atpA genes. The transcription initiation sites of these two mRNAs were mapped by primer extension, and the results revealed no consensus promoter sequences. Phylogenetic analysis of the atpD genes demonstrated that the Lactobacillus atpD gene clustered with the genera Listeria, Lactococcus, Streptococcus, and Enterococcus and that the higher G+C content and highly biased codon usage with respect to the genome average support the hypothesis that there was probably horizontal gene transfer. The acid inducibility of the atp operon of B. lactis DSM 10140 was verified by slot blot hybridization by using RNA isolated from acid-treated cultures of B. lactis DSM 10140. The rapid increase in the level of atp operon transcripts upon exposure to low pH suggested that the ATPase complex of B. lactis DSM 10140 was regulated at the level of transcription and not at the enzyme assembly step.