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Bacteria of the spirochaete genus Borrelia have linear chromosomes about 950 kbp in size. We report here that these linear chromosomes have covalently closed hairpin structures at their termini that are similar but not identical to those reported for linear plasmids carried by these organisms. Nucleotide sequence analysis of the chromosomal telomeric regions indicates that unique, apparently functional genes lie within a few hundred bp of each of the telomeres, and that there is an imperfect 26 bp inverted repeat at the two telomeres. In addition, we characterize a major chromosomal length polymorphism within the right telomeric regions of various Borrelia isolates, and show that sequences similar to those near the right telomere are often found on linear plasmids in B. burgdorferi (sensu stricto) isolates from nature. Sequences similar to a number of other regions of the chromosome, including those near the left telomere, were not found on B. burgdorferi plasmids. These observations suggest that there has been historical exchange of genetic information between the linear plasmids and the right end of the linear chromosome.