Sufficient well-characterized microbial exopolysaccharides are now available to permit extensive studies on the relationship between their chemical structure and their physical attributes. This is seen even in homopolysaccharides with relatively simple structures but is more marked when greater differences in structure exist, as are found in several heteropolysaccharides. The specific and sometimes unique properties have, in the case of several of these polymers, provided a range of commercial applications. The existence of "families" of structurally related polysaccharides also indicates the specific role played by certain structures and substituents; the characteristics of several of these microbial polysaccharide families will be discussed here. Thus, microbial exopolysaccharides frequently carry acyl groups which may profoundly affect their interactive properties although these groups often have relatively little effect on solution viscosity. Xanthan with or without acylation shows marked differences in synergistic gelling with plant gluco- and galacto-mannans, although the polysaccharides with different acylation patterns show similar viscosity. Similarly "gelrite" from the bacterium originally designated as Auromonas (Pseudomonas)elodea is of greater potential value after deacetylation, when it provides a valuable gelling agent, than it is as a viscosifier in the natural acylated form. The Klebsiella type 54 polysaccharide only forms gels when it, too, has been chemically deacetylated to give a structure equivalent to the Enterobacter XM6 polymer. Both these polysaccharides form gels due to the enhanced interaction with cations following deacylation and to the conformation adopted after removal of the acyl groups. Recent work in our laboratory suggests that deacetylation of certain bacterial alginates also significantly increases ion binding by these polysaccharides, making them more similar in their properties to algal alginates even although the alginates from some Pseudomonas species lack poly-L-guluronic acid sequences. The existence within families of polysaccharides of types in which monosaccharides are altered within a specific structure, or with varying side-chains, also gives an indication of the way in which such substituents affect the physical properties of the polymers in aqueous solution.