Escherichia coli YidC is a polytopic inner membrane protein that plays an essential and versatile role in the biogenesis of inner membrane proteins. YidC functions in Sec-dependent membrane insertion but acts also independently as a separate insertase for certain small membrane proteins. We have used a site-specific cross-linking approach to show that the conserved third transmembrane segment of YidC contacts the transmembrane domains of both nascent Sec-dependent and -independent substrates, indicating a generic recognition of insertion intermediates by YidC. Our data suggest that specific residues of the third YidC transmembrane segment α-helix is oriented toward the transmembrane domains of nascent inner membrane proteins that, in contrast, appear quite flexibly positioned at this stage in biogenesis. © 2008 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.