Avian colibacillosis is caused by a group of pathogens designated avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC). Despite being known for over a century, avian colibacillosis remains one of the major endemic diseases afflicting the poultry industry worldwide. Autologous bacterins provide limited serotype-specific protection, yet multiple serogroups are associated with disease, especially O1, O2 and O78 among many others. Experimental infection models have facilitated the identification of some key APEC virulence genes and have allowed testing of vaccine candidates. Well-recognized virulence factors include Type 1 (F1) and P (Pap/Prs) fimbriae for colonization, IbeA for invasion, iron acquisition systems, TraT and Iss for serum survival, K and O antigens for anti-phagocytic activity, and a temperature-sensitive haemagglutinin of imprecise function. Intriguingly, these factors do not occur universally among APEC, suggesting the presence of multiple alternative mechanisms mediating pathogenicity. The recent availability of the first complete APEC genome sequence can be expected to accelerate the identification of bacterial genes expressed during infection and required for virulence. High-throughput molecular approaches like signature-tagged transposon mutagenesis have already proved invaluable in revealing portfolios of genes expressed by pathogenic bacteria during infection, and this has enabled identification of APEC O2 factors required for septicaemia in the chicken model. Complimentary approaches, such as in vivo-induced antigen technology, exist to define the activities of APEC in vivo. In recent years, reverse vaccinology and immuno-proteomic approaches have also enabled identification of novel vaccine candidates in other bacterial pathogens. Collectively, such information provides the basis for the development or improvement of strategies to control APEC infections in the food-producing avian species.