Background: We analysed 48 non-redundant antibiotic target proteins from all bacteria, 22 antibiotic target proteins from E. coli only and 4243 non-drug targets from E. coli to identify differences in their properties and to predict new potential drug targets.Results: When compared to non-targets, bacterial antibiotic targets tend to be long, have high β-sheet and low α-helix contents, are polar, are found in the cytoplasm rather than in membranes, and are usually enzymes, with ligases particularly favoured. Sequence features were used to build a support vector machine model for E. coli proteins, allowing the assignment of any sequence to the drug target or non-target classes, with an accuracy in the training set of 94%. We identified 319 proteins (7%) in the non-target set that have target-like properties, many of which have unknown function. 63 of these proteins have significant and undesirable similarity to a human protein, leaving 256 target like proteins that are not present in humans.Conclusions: We suggest that antibiotic discovery programs would be more likely to succeed if new targets are chosen from this set of target like proteins or their homologues. In particular, 64 are essential genes where the cell is not able to recover from a random insertion disruption. © 2010 Bakheet and Doig; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.