To estimate the minimal gene set required to sustain bacterial life in nutritious conditions, we carried out a systematic inactivation of Bacillus subtilis genes. Among ≈4,100 genes of the organism, only 192 were shown to be indispensable by this or previous work. Another 79 genes were predicted to be essential. The vast majority of essential genes were categorized in relatively few domains of cell metabolism, with about half involved in information processing, one-fifth involved in the synthesis of cell envelope and the determination of cell shape and division, and one-tenth related to cell energetics. Only 4% of essential genes encode unknown functions. Most essential genes are present throughout a wide range of Bacteria, and almost 70% can also be found in Archaea and Eucarya. However, essential genes related to cell envelope, shape, division, and respiration tend to be lost from bacteria with small genomes. Unexpectedly, most genes involved in the Embden-Meyerhof-Parnas pathway are essential. Identification of unknown and unexpected essential genes opens research avenues to better understanding of processes that sustain bacterial life.