Enteric bacteria are frequently found in aquatic environments, where they may pose a risk to human health. Although bacterial survival and persistence in such habitats has been studied extensively, there is almost no information about bacterial adaptation to these conditions at the level of changes in gene expression. As a first exploration of this field, we have carried out a screen designed to identify Escherichia coli genes that show increased expression in an aquatic environment. The screen was performed by subtractive hybridization on a genomic library and led to the identification of several RNA species more abundant in cells inoculated in this medium than in stationary-phase cultures after growth in rich medium. The genes identified include specific tRNA operons and a gene of unknown function, gapC, with similarities to glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenases. E. coli K-12 strains appear to have accumulated mutations in gapC, which may impede its translation, whereas natural isolates have an intact gapC gene. Sequence comparison of gapC with related genes suggests its acquisition by horizontal gene transfer from gram-positive bacteria.