Salmonella hupA and hupB mutants were studied to determine the reasons for the high degree of conservation in HU structure in bacteria. We found one HU-1-specific effect; the F'128 plasmid was 25-fold less stable in hupB compared with hupA or wild-type cells. F' plasmids were 120-fold more unstable in hupA hupB double mutants compared with wild-type cells, and the double mutant also had a significant alteration in plasmid DNA structure. pBR322 DNA isolated from hupA hupB strains was deficient in supercoiling by 10 to 15% compared with wild-type cells, and the topoisomer distribution was significantly more heterogeneous than in wild-type or single-mutant strains. Other systems altered by HU inactivation included flagellar phase variation and phage Mu transposition. However, Mu transposition rates were only about fourfold lower in Salmonella HU double mutants. One reason that Salmonella HU double mutants may be less defective for Mu transposition than E. coli is the synthesis in double mutants of a new, small, basic heat-stable protein, which might partially compensate for the loss of HU. The results indicate that although either HU-1 or HU-2 subunit alone may accommodate the cellular need for general chromosomal organization, the selective pressure to conserve HU-1 and HU-2 structure during evolution could involve specialized roles of the individual subunits.