Bacteria exchange genetic material by horizontal gene transfer (HGT). To evaluate the impact of HGT on Escherichia coli genome plasticity, 19 commensal strains collected from the intestinal floras of humans and animals were analyzed by microarrays. Strains were hybridized against an oligoarray containing 2700 E. coli K12 chromosomal genes. A core (genes shared among compared genomes) and a flexible gene pool (genes unique for each genome) have been identified. Analysis of hybridization signals evidenced 1015 divergent genes among the 19 strains and each strain showed a specific genomic variability pattern. Four hundred and fifty-eight genes were characterized by higher rates of interstrain variation and were considered hyperdivergent. These genes are not randomly distributed onto the chromosome but are clustered in precise regions. Hyperdivergent genes belong to the flexible gene pool and show a specific GC content, differing from that of the chromosome, indicating acquisition by HGT. Among these genes, those involved in defense mechanisms and cell motility as well as intracellular trafficking and secretion were far more represented than others. The observed genome plasticity contributes to the maintenance of genetic diversity and may therefore be a source of evolutionary adaptation and survival.