We examined the surface properties, susceptibility to the bactericidal activity of serum, and susceptibility to phagocytosis of Escherichia coli K1, a laboratory strain of E. coli (LE392), and strain LE392 carrying a plasmid (pKT274) incorporating a 17-kilobase insert of DNA that encodes the ability to produce surface K1 antigen. As determined by electron microscopy, LE392 was nonencapsulated but both E. coli K1 and LE392(pKT274) possessed a thin capsule. By using charged aqueous two-phase polymer systems, both E. coli K1 and LE392(pKT274) were shown to be significantly more negatively charged than LE392. E. coli K1 was resistant to the bactericidal activity of serum, but both LE392 and LE392(pKT274) were completely inhibited by neonatal serum at a concentration of 20% (vol/vol). As measured by counting endocytosed and nonendocytosed bacteria and by chemiluminescent response, E. coli K1 was highly resistant to phagocytic uptake by polymorphonuclear leukocytes, whereas LE392 was rapidly taken up by such cells; LE392(pKT274) was resistant to endocytosis, although less so than E. coli K1. Most intraphagocytic E. coli LK1 remained structurally intact for up to 60 min, whereas both LE392 and LE392(pKT274) were rapidly degraded.