Recently, Rhizobium etli, in addition to Agrobacterium spp., has emerged as a prokaryotic species whose genome encodes a functional machinery for DNA transfer to plant cells. To understand this R. etli-mediated genetic transformation, it would be useful to define how its vir genes respond to the host plants. Here, we explored the transcriptional activation of the vir genes contained on the R. etli p42a plasmid. Using a reporter construct harboring lacZ under the control of the R. etli virE promoter, we show that the signal phenolic molecule acetosyringone (AS) induces R. etli vir gene expression both in an R. etli background and in an Agrobacterium tumefaciens background. Furthermore, in both bacterial backgrounds, the p42a plasmid also promoted plant genetic transformation with a reporter transfer DNA (T-DNA). Importantly, the R. etli vir genes were transcriptionally activated by AS in a bacterial species-specific fashion in regard to the VirA/VirG signal sensor system, and this activation was induced by signals from the natural host species of this bacterium but not from nonhost plants. The early kinetics of transcriptional activation of the major vir genes of R. etli also revealed several features distinct from those known for A. tumefaciens: the expression of the virG gene reached saturation relatively quickly, and virB2, which in R. etli is located outside the virB operon, was expressed only at low levels and did not respond to AS. These differences in vir gene transcription may contribute to the lower efficiency of T-DNA transfer of R. etli p42a than of T-DNA transfer of pTiC58 of A. tumefaciensIMPORTANCE The region encoding homologs of Agrobacterium tumefaciens virulence genes in the Rhizobium etli CE3 p42a plasmid was the first endogenous virulence system encoded by the genome of a non-Agrobacterium species demonstrated to be functional in DNA transfer and stable integration into the plant cell genome. In this study, we explored the transcriptional regulation and induction of virulence genes in R. etli and show similarities to and differences from those of their A. tumefaciens counterparts, contributing to an understanding and a comparison of these two systems. Whereas most vir genes in R. etli follow an induction pattern similar to that of A. tumefaciens vir genes, a few significant differences may at least in part explain the variations in T-DNA transfer efficiency.