Instability and excision of pathogenicity islands (PAIs) have already been described in Escherichia coli 536. In this edition of Molecular Microbiology, Bianca Hochhut and colleagues from the University of Würzburg in Germany have shown that the instability of four of the E. coli 536 PAIs is mediated by a P4-type integrase encoded within the specific PAI by a site-specific recombination mechanism. The integrase encoded on PAI II536 is able to mediate excision and integration of both PAI II536, and also PAI V536. The att sites of both these PAIs have a region of sequence similarity, which is also found in several other PAIs and in tRNA genes in several bacterial species. The cross-PAI activity of this integrase (IntPAI II) suggests that it plays an important role in both genome evolution and horizontal transfer of pathogenicity elements, possibly even across species barriers. Deletion of PAIs that carry genes for adhesins and other traits might lead to a phase variation-like phenomenon. Differential regulation of integrase activity or production might add a further level of fine-tuning during bacterial infection.