Although Escherichia coli is generally considered to be predominantly a commensal of the gastrointestinal tract, a number of recent studies suggest that it is also capable of long-term survival and growth in environments outside the host. As the extraintestinal physical and chemical conditions are often different from those within the host, it is possible that distinct genetic adaptations may be required to enable this transition. Several studies have shown a trade-off between growth and stress resistance in nutrient-poor environments, with lesions in the rpoS locus, which encodes the stress sigma factor RpoS (σ S ). In this study, we investigated a unique collection of long-term soil-persistent E. coli isolates to determine whether the RpoS-controlled general stress response is altered during adaptation to a nutrient-poor extraintestinal environment. The sequence of the rpoS locus was found to be highly conserved in these isolates, and no nonsense or frameshift mutations were detected. Known RpoS-dependent phenotypes, including glycogen synthesis and γ-aminobutyrate production, were found to be conserved in all strains. All strains expressed the full-length RpoS protein, which was fully functional using the RpoS-dependent promoter reporter fusion P gadX :: gfp . RpoS was shown to be essential for long-term soil survival of E. coli , since mutants lacking rpoS lost viability rapidly in soil survival assays. Thus, despite some phenotypic heterogeneity, the soil-persistent strains all retained a fully functional RpoS-regulated general stress response, which we interpret to indicate that the stresses encountered in soil provide a strong selective pressure for maintaining stress resistance, despite limited nutrient availability.