Biochemical and physiological traits of a collection of strains of Vibrio cholerae O139 Bengal isolated from India, Bangladesh, and Thailand showed that these strains formed a phenotypically homogeneous group with identical characteristics that were essentially similar to those of the O1 serogroup. Resistance to 150 micrograms of the vibriostatic agent O/129 (2,4-diamino-6,7-diisopropylpteridine) and Mukherjee's El Tor phage 5 and classical phage IV and the nonagglutinability of the strains with O1 antiserum were the only discernible differences between the O139 and O1 serogroups. Extensive serological characterization further revealed the O139 serogroup to be distinct from the existing 138 serogroups of V. cholerae. Antiserum raised against the O139 serogroup required absorption with the R reference strain CA385 and with the reference strain representing serogroup O22 to remove cross-reacting agglutinins. All of the 223 representative strains of V. cholerae O139 examined hybridized with DNA probes specific for the cholera toxin (CT) gene, zonula occludens toxin gene, and El Tor hemolysin gene but not with the probe specific for the heat-stable enterotoxin gene. The amount of CT present in stool samples of patients infected with the O139 serogroup was higher than that found in stools of patients infected with O1 El Tor, and this echoed findings that the amount of CT produced by O139 strains in vitro was higher than that produced by the O1 El Tor strains. The nucleotide sequences of the genes encoding the A and B subunits of CT of the O139 serogroup were identical to the sequences reported for the CT gene of O1 El Tor. The CT gene of O139 strains could be amplified by using primers developed for detection of the CT gene of the O1 serogroup by a PCR assay, which could also be used to detect the CT gene in stool samples of patients infected with strains of the O139 serogroup.