Domesticated laboratory strains of Bacillus subtilis readily take up and integrate exogenous DNA. In contrast, "wild" ancestors or Bacillus strains recently isolated from the environment can only be genetically modified by phage transduction, electroporation or protoplast transformation. Such methods are laborious, have a variable yield or cannot efficiently be used to alter chromosomal DNA. A major disadvantage of using laboratory strains is that they have often lost, or do not display ecologically relevant physiologies such as the ability to form biofilms. Here we present a method that allows genetic transformation by natural competence in several environmental isolates of B. subtilis. Competence in these strains was established by expressing the B. subtilis competence transcription factor ComK from an IPTG-inducible promoter construct present on an unstable plasmid. This transiently activates expression of the genes required for DNA uptake and recombination in the host strain. After transformation, the comK encoding plasmid is lost easily because of its intrinsic instability and the transformed strain returns to its wild state. Using this method, we have successfully generated mutants and introduced foreign DNA into a number of environmental isolates and also B. subtilis strain NCIB3610, which is widely used to study biofilm formation. Application of the same method to strains of B. licheniformis was unsuccessful. The efficient and rapid approach described here may facilitate genetic studies in a wider array of environmental B. subtilis strains.