The nature of the micro-flora present in sputa of six different cystic fibrosis (CF) patients was assessed using routine microbiological culture and molecular methods. Bacterial genes for the small subunit ribosomal RNA (ssu rDNA) were specifically amplified from DNA extracted from the sputum samples, cloned and characterised by hybridisation and DNA sequencing. A large number of clones from six sputa were screened. Initially, oligonucleotide hybridisation was performed with five probes, specific for Gram-positives and Gram-negatives in general and the main pathogens for the CF patient (Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Haemophilus influenzae). For a single sputum sample, the results were fully congruent when culture and molecular methods were compared. In the other five sputa, discrepancies for S. aureus and/or H. influenzae were documented. Although S. aureus DNA and H. influenzae DNA was detected in three and four sputa, respectively, strains could not be cultured. Although the PCR approach is not capable of distinguishing viable from dead bacteria, all of the CF patients had a history of S. aureus infections, while one of the CF patients once had cultivable H. influenzae in the sputum as well. A number of clones for probe-unidentified Gram-negative or Gram-positive bacterial species were further analysed by sequencing and additional potential pathogens were identified. Although routine culture of sputum frequently points to mono-specific exacerbations, our molecular data indicate that the other CF-related pathogens appear to be persistently present as well. We conclude that routine culture for bacterial pathogens from CF sputa yields limited microbiological information since it frequently fails to identify a number of pathogenic bacterial species that are potentially present in a viable status in the lungs of these patients.