Toxic and non-toxic cyanobacterial strains from Anabaena, Aphanizomenon, Calothrix, Cylindrospermum, Nostoc, Microcystis, Planktothrix (Oscillatoria agardhii), Oscillatoria and Synechococcus genera were examined by RFLP of PCR-amplified 16S rRNA genes and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. With both methods, high 16S rRNA gene similarity was found among planktic, anatoxin-a-producing Anabaena and non-toxic Aphanizomenon, microcystin-producing and non-toxic Microcystis, and microcystin-producing and non-toxic Planktothrix strains of different geographical origins. The respective sequence similarities were 99.9-100%, 94.2-99.9% and 99.3-100%. Thus the morphological characteristics (e.g. Anabaena and Aphanizomenon), the physiological (toxicity) characteristics or the geographical origins did not reflect the level of 16S rRNA gene relatedness of the closely related strains studied. In addition, cyanobacterial strains were fingerprinted with repetitive extragenic palindromic (REP)- and enterobacterial repetitive intergenic consensus (ERIC)-PCR. All the strains except two identical pairs of Microcystis strains had different band profiles. The overall grouping of the trees from the 16S rRNA gene and the REP- and ERIC-PCR analyses was similar. Based on the 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis, four major clades were formed. (i) The clade containing filamentous heterocystous cyanobacteria was divided into three discrete groups of Anabaena/Aphanizomenon, Anabaena/Cylindrospermum/ Nodularia/Nostoc and Calothrix strains. The three other clades contained (ii) filamentous non-heterocystous Planktothrix, (iii) unicellular non-heterocystous Microcystis and (iv) Synechococcus strains.