Escherichia coli strains defective in the rpiA gene, encoding ribose phosphate isomerase A, are ribose auxotrophs, despite the presence of the wild-type rpiB gene, which encodes ribose phosphate isomerase B. Ribose prototrophs of an rpiA genetic background were isolated by two different approaches. Firstly, spontaneous ribose-independent mutants were isolated. The locus for this lesion, rpiR, was mapped to 93 min on the linkage map, and the gene order zje::Tn10-rpiR-mel-zjd::Tn10-psd-purA was established. Secondly, ribose prototrophs resulted from the cloning of the rpiB gene on a multicopy plasmid. The rpiB gene resided on a 4.6-kbp HindIII-EcoRV DNA fragment from phage lambda 10H5 (642) of the Kohara gene library and mapped at 92.85 min. Consistent with this map position, the cloned DNA fragment contained two divergent open reading frames of 149 and 296 codons, encoding ribose phosphate isomerase B (molecular mass, 16,063 Da) and a negative regulator of rpiB gene expression, RpiR (molecular mass, 32,341 Da), respectively. The 5' ends of rpiB- and rpiR-specified transcripts were located by primer extension analysis. No significant amino acid sequence similarity was found between ribose phosphate isomerases A and B, but ribose phosphate isomerase B exhibited high-level similarity to both LacA and LacB subunits of the galactose 6-phosphate isomerases of several gram-positive bacteria. Analyses of strains containing rpiA, rpiB, or rpiA rpiB mutations revealed that both enzymes were equally efficient in catalyzing the isomerization step in either direction and that the construction of rpiA rpiB double mutants was a necessity to fully prevent this reaction.