In 1992 a new Vibrio cholerae strain, designated V. cholerae O139 Bengal, emerged which has been responsible for large outbreaks of cholera in India and Bangladesh. Previously, we have shown that this strain arose from a V. cholerae O1 strain by the acquisition of novel DNA. Sequence analysis revealed that the novel DNA is flanked by two genes, rfaD and rfbQRS, which are also found in O1 strains. The mosaic structure of rfaDVCO139 indicated that it was one of the regions involved in recombination between donor and acceptor DNA. However, sequence divergence between the O1 and O139 rfbQRS genes indicated that the second recombination site between donor and O1-acceptor DNA is probably located downstream of rfbDVCO139. The DNA region between rfaDVCO139 and rfbQRSVCO139, designated otn, contained seven open reading frames (ORFs). Two ORFs, otnA and otnB, showed homology with genes involved in cell-wall polysaccharide synthesis. Mutations in otnA and otnB indicated that they are required for capsule synthesis but not lipopolysaccharide synthesis. The otn DNA is also found in V. cholerae O69 and O141 strains, and the organization of this DNA was essentially identical to that in the O139 strain. However, sequence divergence of the otnAB genes indicated that the O139 otn DNA region was not derived from the O69 or O141 strains. No antigenic relationship was found between the different V. cholerae serotypes carrying otn DNA, so the genes determining the antigenic specificity of the O antigen or capsule must be located outside the otn DNA. The O139 otn DNA contained a JUMPstart sequence, which is associated with polysaccharide-synthetic genes in several bacterial species. Furthermore, a repeat motif was observed in extragenic regions. A number of observations suggest that these sequences may facilitate gene flow between V. cholerae strains and the assembly of clusters of functionally related genes.