The Escherichia coli rRNA operons each have one of two types of spacer separating the 16S and 23S coding regions. The spacers of four operons encode tRNA(Glu2) and the other three encode both tRNA(Ile) and tRNA(Ala1B). We have prepared a series of mutants in which the spacer region of a particular rrn operon has been replaced by the opposite type. Included among these were a mutant retaining only a single copy of the tRNA(Glu2) spacer (at rrnG) and another retaining only a single copy of the tRNA(Ile)-tRNA(Ala1B) spacer (at rrnA). While both mutants grew more slowly than controls, the mutant deficient in tRNA(Glu2) spacers was more severely affected. At a frequency of 6 X 10(-5), these mutants phenotypically reverted to faster growing types by increasing the copy number of the deficient spacer. In most of these phenotypic revertants, the deficient spacer type appeared in a rrn operon which previously contained the surplus type, bringing the ratio of spacer types closer to normal. In a few cases, these spacer changes were accompanied by an inversion of the chromosomal material between the donor and recipient rrn operons. Two examples of inversion of one-half of the E. coli chromosome between rrnG and rrnH were observed. The correlation of spacer change with inversion indicated that, in these particular cases, the change was due to an intrachromatid gene conversion event accompanied by a reciprocal crossover rather than reciprocal exchange between sister chromatids.