A vaccine was prepared using recombinant DNA techniques to prevent fatal enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli diarrhea in swine. The product, which is a subunit vaccine, was prepared by mechanical and chemical removal of pilus adhesins from the surface of genetically engineered strains of E. coli. The vaccine contains the pilus adhesins K88, K99, and 987P plus an adjuvant. The genes responsible for production of K88 and K99 were separately cloned into the multicopy vector pBR322. K88 was found to be encoded on a 7.6-kilobase HindIII-EcoRI fragment, and K99 was found to be encoded on a 7.15-kilobase BamHI fragment. Strains containing the recombinant plasmid for K99 produced up to ten times more K99 than strains containing the wild-type plasmid. Vaccination of pregnant pigs with the vaccine led to production of pilus-adhesin-specific antibodies that were transferred to the piglets in colostrum and milk. Pilus-adhesin-specific antibodies neutralized the adhesiveness of the pili on enterotoxigenic E. coli, thus preventing attachment, colonization, and disease. Mortality of pigs in litters from vaccinated pigs due to experimentally induced enterotoxigenic E. coli diarrhea was reduced 10-to-20-fold (depending upon the challenge strain), and the incidence, severity, and duration of diarrhea were also reduced.