The O-specific lipopolysaccharide side chains of Escherichia coli O7 and Shigella boydii type 12 possess similar but not identical chemical structures. We investigated the genetic relatedness between the O-specific side chain genes in members of these two species. Examination of outer membrane protein and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) banding patterns demonstrated that five strains which had been identified as S. boydii type 12 fell into two clonal groups, SB1 and SB2. Hybridizations with O7-specific radiolabeled probes derived from the chromosomal DNA of an E. coli O7 strain detected identical fragments among the three SB1 strains of S. boydii type 12 and the two E. coli O7 reference isolates. The two other S. boydii type 12 strains, which belonged to the SB2 clone, did not show homologies with the O7 probe under high-stringency conditions of hybridization. The homology between the O7 and type 12 LPS gene regions from the SB1 strains was further confirmed by the construction of O-specific side chain-deficient mutations in these strains by homologous recombination of a suicide plasmid containing O7-specific DNA sequences. Immunoblot experiments with O7 antiserum gave a weak cross-reaction with LPS purified from the SB2 strains but a very strong cross-reaction with the LPS from SB1 isolates. Antiserum raised to one of the SB2 strains cross-reacted only with S. boydii type 12 LPS from the SB1 clone but failed to react with O7 LPS.