The Escherichia coli ammonium transport protein (AmtB) has become the model system of choice for analysis of the process of ammonium uptake by the ubiquitous Amt family of inner membrane proteins. Over the past 6 years we have developed a range of genetic and biochemical tools in this system. These have allowed structure/function analysis to develop rapidly, offering insight initially into the membrane topology of the protein and most recently leading to the solution of high-resolution 3D structures. Genetic analysis has revealed a novel regulatory mechanism that is apparently conserved in prokaryotic Amt proteins and genetic approaches are also now being used to dissect structure/function relationships in Amt proteins. The now well-recognised homology between the Amt proteins, found in archaea, eubacteria, fungi and plants, and the Rhesus proteins, found characteristically in animals, also means that studies on E. coli AmtB can potentially shed light on structure/function relationships in the clinically important Rh proteins.