Each difference between the genome sequences of Escherichia coli B strains REL606 and BL21(DE3) can be interpreted in light of known laboratory manipulations plus a gene conversion between ribosomal RNA operons. Two treatments with 1-methyl-3-nitro-1-nitrosoguanidine in the REL606 lineage produced at least 93 single-base-pair mutations ( approximately 90% GC-to-AT transitions) and 3 single-base-pair GC deletions. Two UV treatments in the BL21(DE3) lineage produced only 4 single-base-pair mutations but 16 large deletions. P1 transductions from K-12 into the two B lineages produced 317 single-base-pair differences and 9 insertions or deletions, reflecting differences between B DNA in BL21(DE3) and integrated restriction fragments of K-12 DNA inherited by REL606. Two sites showed selective enrichment of spontaneous mutations. No unselected spontaneous single-base-pair mutations were evident. The genome sequences revealed that a progenitor of REL606 had been misidentified, explaining initially perplexing differences. Limited sequencing of other B strains defined characteristic properties of B and allowed assembly of the inferred genome of the ancestral B of Delbrück and Luria. Comparison of the B and K-12 genomes shows that more than half of the 3793 proteins of their basic genomes are predicted to be identical, although approximately 310 appear to be functional in either B or K-12 but not in both. The ancestral basic genome appears to have had approximately 4039 coding sequences occupying approximately 4.0 Mbp. Repeated horizontal transfer from diverged Escherichia coli genomes and homologous recombination may explain the observed variable distribution of single-base-pair differences. Fifteen sites are occupied by phage-related elements, but only six by comparable elements at the same site. More than 50 sites are occupied by IS elements in both B and K, 16 in common, and likely founding IS elements are identified. A signature of widespread cryptic phage P4-type mobile elements was identified. Complex deletions (dense clusters of small deletions and substitutions) apparently removed nonessential genes from approximately 30 sites in the basic genomes.