Acidobacteria have been established as a novel phylum of Bacteria that is consistently detected in many different habitats around the globe by 16S rDNA-based molecular surveys. The phylogenetic diversity, ubiquity and abundance of this group, particularly in soil habitats, suggest an important ecological role and extensive metabolic versatility. However, the genetic and physiological information about Acidobacteria is scarce. In order to gain insight into genome structure, evolution and diversity of these microorganisms we have initiated an environmental genomic approach by constructing large insert libraries directly from DNA of a calcerous grassland soil. Genomic fragments of Acidobacteria were identified with specific 16S rDNA probes and sequence analyses of six independently identified clones were performed, representing in total more than 210,000 bp. The 16S rRNA genes of the genomic fragments differed between 2.3% and 19.9% and were placed into two different subgroups of Acidobacteria (groups III and V). Although partial co-linearity was found between genomic fragments, the gene content around the rRNA operons was generally not conserved. Phylogenetic reconstructions with orthologues that were encoded on two of the six genomic fragments (PurF, PurL, PurB and formamidopyrimidine-DNA glycosylase) confirmed the coherence of the acidobacterial phylum. One genomic fragment harboured a cluster of eight genes which was syntenic and highly homologous to genomic regions in Rhodopseudomonas palustris and Bradyrhizobium japonicum, including a conserved two-component system. Phylogenetic analysis of the putative response regulator confirmed that this similarity between Rhizobiales and Acidobacteria might be due to a horizontal gene transfer. In total, our data give first insight into the genome content and diversity of the ubiquitously distributed but poorly characterized phylum of Acidobacteria. Furthermore they support the phylogenetic inferences made from 16S rRNA gene libraries, suggesting that Acidobacteria form a broad group in the same sense and with a similar diversity as that of many well-studied bacterial phyla.