The DNA sequence of part of the gnd (6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase) gene was determined for eight wild strains of Escherichia coli and for Salmonella typhimurium. Since a region of the trp (tryptophan) operon and the phoA (alkaline phosphatase) gene have been sequenced from the same strains, the gene trees for these three regions were determined and compared. Gene trees are different from species or strain trees in that a gene tree is derived from a particular segment of DNA, whereas a species or strain tree should be derived from many such segments and is the tree that best represents the phylogenetic relationship of the species or strains. If there were no recombination in E. coli, the gene trees for different genes would not be statistically different from the strain tree or from each other. But, if the gene trees are significantly different, there must have been recombination. Methods are proposed that show these gene trees to be statistically different. Since the gene trees are different, we conclude that recombination is important in natural populations of E. coli. Finally, we suggest that gene trees can be used to create an operational means of defining bacterial species by using the biological species definition.