The large intestinal microbiota plays an important role in normal bowel function and the maintenance of host health, through the formation of short chain fatty acids, modulation of immune system reactivity and development of colonisation resistance. However, the effects of ageing on bacterial community structure in the colon are not well documented. Aim of this study is to assess bacterial species diversity in the human faecal microbiota with respect to age and Clostridium difficile infection. Bacterial populations were quantified from stool samples obtained from children (16 months to seven years), young adults (21-34 years), healthy elderly people (67-88 years) and patients diagnosed with Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhoea (68-73 years). Microbial diversity was assessed to species level for samples from the latter three subject groups. Marked interindividual variations occurred in microbial composition at genus and species levels. The faecal microbiota of children was found to be bacteriologically less complex whilst advancing age was associated with decreased bifidobacteria and increased bacteroides species diversity. Changes in microbial composition with age or disease will alter the metabolic capacity of the gut microbiota and has important implications for therapies aimed at modulating the large intestinal microbiota.