The partial 60 kDa heat-shock protein (HSP60) genes of 36 Bifidobacterium strains representing 30 different Bifidobacterium species and subspecies and of the type strain of Gardnerella vaginalis were cloned and sequenced using a pair of universal degenerate HSP60 PCR primers. The HSP60 DNA sequence similarities were determined for the taxa at various ranks as follows: 99.4-100% within the same species, 96% at the subspecies level, and 73-96% (mean 85%) at the interspecies level (and 98% in the case of two groups of closely related species, Bifidobacterium animalis and Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium suis, whose 165 rRNA sequence similarities are all above 99%). The HSP60 DNA sequence similarities between different Bifidobacterium species and G. vaginalis, a closely related bacterium according to 16S rRNA analysis, ranged from 71 to 79% (mean 75%). Although the topology of the phylogenetic tree constructed using the HSP60 sequences determined was basically similar to that for 16S rRNA, it seemed to be more clear-cut for species delineation, and the clustering was better correlated with the DNA base composition (mol% G+C) than that of the 16S rRNA tree. In the HSP60 phylogenetic tree, all of the high-G+C (55-67 mol%) bifidobacteria were grouped into one cluster, whereas the low-G+C species Bifidobacterium inopinatum (45 mol %) formed a separate cluster with G. vaginalis (42 mol%) and Bifidobacterium denticolens (55 mol%); a Bifidobacterium species of intermediate G+C content formed another cluster between the two. This study demonstrates that the highly conserved and ubiquitous HSP60 gene is an accurate and convenient tool for phylogenetic analysis of the genus Bifidobacterium.