Forty-six Escherichia coli isolates of serotype O2:K1 from human urinary tract infections, chicken sepsis, and bovine mastitis were obtained from laboratories in England, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. The bacteria were compared for outer membrane protein (OMP) pattern, lipopolysaccharide pattern, electrophoretic mobilities of enzymes, and flagellar serotype and were tested for fimbriation, biotype, hydroxamate production, hemolysin production, antibiotic resistance, plasmid content, colicin production, and virulence in neonatal rats. Isolates from humans were assigned to two clonal groups; poultry isolates belonged to one of these clonal groups, whereas bovine isolates belonged to the other. Poultry and human isolates of the same clonal group could be distinguished only by their plasmid content. Strains within this group were heterogeneous with respect to biotype, fimbriation, virulence, and flagellar serotype. Human and bovine isolates of the second clonal group were distinguished by a minor change in OMP pattern and by their plasmid content. It is concluded that meaningful clonal groupings are best recognized by the combination of OMP and electrophoretic enzyme patterns. The O:K serotype can aid in the recognition of important subclones, whereas the other microbiological properties tested can vary widely within clonal groupings. Furthermore, we conclude that certain O:K serotypes can contain very different clonal groupings having little genetic relatedness.