The environmental reservoirs for Vibrio cholerae are natural aquatic habitats, where it colonizes the chitinous exoskeletons of copepod molts. Growth of V. cholerae on a chitin surface induces competence for natural transformation, a mechanism for intra-species gene exchange. The antigenically diverse O-serogroup determinants of V. cholerae are encoded by a genetically variable biosynthetic cluster of genes that is flanked on either side by chromosomal regions that are conserved between different serogroups. To determine whether this genomic motif and chitin-induced natural transformation might enable the exchange of serogroup-specific gene clusters between different O serogroups of V. cholerae, a strain of V. cholerae O1 El Tor was co-cultured with a strain of V. cholerae O139 Bengal within a biofilm on the same chitin surface immersed in seawater, and O1-to-O139 transformants were obtained. Serogroup conversion of the O1 recipient by the O139 donor was demonstrated by comparative genomic hybridization, biochemical and serological characterization of the O-antigenic determinant, and resistance of O1-to-O139 transformants to bacteriolysis by a virulent O1-specific phage. Serogroup conversion was shown to have occurred as a single-step exchange of large fragments of DNA. Crossovers were localized to regions of homology common to other V. cholerae serogroups that flank serogroup-specific encoding sequences. This result and the successful serogroup conversion of an O1 strain by O37 genomic DNA indicate that chitin-induced natural transformation might be a common mechanism for serogroup conversion in aquatic habitats and for the emergence of V. cholerae variants that are better adapted for survival in environmental niches or more pathogenic for humans.