Vibrio cholerae has multiple survival strategies which are reflected both in its broad distribution in many aquatic environments and its high genotypic diversity. To obtain additional information regarding the content of the V. cholerae genome, suppression subtractive hybridization (SSH) was used to prepare libraries of DNA sequences from two southern California coastal isolates which are divergent or absent in the clinical strain V. cholerae O1 El Tor N16961. More than 1,400 subtracted clones were sequenced. This revealed the presence of novel sequences encoding functions related to cell surface structures, transport, metabolism, signal transduction, luminescence, mobile elements, stress resistance, and virulence. Flanking sequence information was determined for loci of interest, and the distribution of these sequences was assessed for a collection of V. cholerae strains obtained from southern California and Mexican environments. This led to the surprising observation that sequences related to the toxin genes toxA, cnf1, and exoY are widespread and more common in these strains than those of the cholera toxin genes which are a hallmark of the pandemic strains of V. cholerae. Gene transfer among these strains could be facilitated by a 4.9-kbp plasmid discovered in one isolate, which possesses similarity to plasmids from other environmental vibrios. By investigating some of the nucleotide sequence basis for V. cholerae genotypic diversity, DNA fragments have been uncovered which could promote survival in coastal environments. Furthermore, a set of genes has been described which could be involved in as yet undiscovered interactions between V. cholerae and eukaryotic organisms.