Molecular typing of Bacillus anthracis has been extremely difficult due to the lack of polymorphic DNA markers. We have identified nine novel variable number tandemly repeated loci from previously known amplified fragment length polymorphism markers or from the DNA sequence. In combination with the previously known vrrA locus, these markers provide discrimination power to genetically characterize B. anthracis isolates. The variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) loci are found in both gene coding (genic) and non-coding (non-genic) regions. The genic differences are 'in frame' and result in additions or deletion of amino acids to the predicted proteins. Due the rarity of molecular differences, the VNTR changes represent a significant portion of the genetic variation found within B. anthracis. This variation could represent an important adaptive mechanism. Marker similarity and differences among diverse isolates have identified seven major diversity groups that may represent the only world-wide B. anthracis clones. The lineages reconstructed using these data may reflect the dispersal and evolution of this pathogen.