Legionella pneumophila is naturally found in fresh water were the bacteria parasitize within protozoa. It also survives planctonically in water or biofilms. Upon aerosol formation via man-made water systems, L. pneumophila can enter the human lung and cause a severe form of pneumonia, called Legionnaires' disease. The pathogenesis of Legionnaires' disease is largely due to the ability of L. pneumophila to invade and grow within macrophages. An important characteristic of the intracellular survival strategy is the replication within the host vacuole that does not fuse with endosomes or lysosomes. In recent times a great number of bacterial virulence factors which affect growth of L. pneumophila in both macrophages and protozoa have been identified. The ongoing Legionella genome project and the use of genetically tractable surrogate hosts are expected to significantly contribute to the understanding of bacterium-host interactions and the regulation of virulence traits during the infection cycle. Since person-to-person transmission of legionellosis has never been observed, the measures for disease prevention have concentrated on eliminating the pathogen from water supplies. In this respect detection and analysis of Legionella in complex environmental consortia become increasingly important. With the availability of new molecular tools this area of applied research has gained new momentum.