A polyphasic taxonomic study was performed on 23 strains isolated from cystic fibrosis (CF) patients in the USA. These strains were tentatively identified as Burkholderia cepacia, Burkholderia vietnamiensis and Burkholderia or Ralstonia sp. using biochemical tests and 16S rDNA-based PCR assays. Visual comparison of protein profiles indicated that they belonged to a single new group ('group 13'). The polyphasic taxonomic data showed that 18 of these strains represent a new member of the B. cepacia complex, referred to in this report as B. cepacia genomovar VI, whereas the other five strains belonged to Burkholderia multivorans. By means of biochemical tests, B. cepacia genomovar VI strains can be separated from B. cepacia genomovars I and III, Burkholderia stabilis, B. vietnamiensis and Burkholderia gladioli, but not from B. multivorans. Separation of B. cepacia genomovar VI and B. multivorans is possible using AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) fingerprinting and DNA-DNA hybridizations. Retrospective analysis of epidemiological and genotypic data suggests that strains of B. cepacia genomovar VI have been involved in chronic colonization of CF patients and have been spread from person to person.