The unusual longevity of the Escherichia coli ompA transcript is determined by its 5' untranslated region (UTR), which functions in vivo as an mRNA stabilizer. Here we show that this 5' UTR can prolong the lifetime in E. coli of a variety of heterologous mRNAs to which it is joined, either as a gene fusion or as an operon fusion. Statistical extrapolation suggests that it is quite likely that most E. coli mRNAs could be stabilized in this manner. We conclude that the ompA 5' UTR impedes a major pathway for mRNA degradation in E. coli and that stabilization by fusion to this UTR does not require translational readthrough of the heterologous mRNA segment by ribosomes that initiate translation at the ompA ribosome-binding site. Additional experiments indicate that the E. coli ribonuclease whose action is slowed by the ompA 5' UTR is not RNase III.