We propose genetic guidelines for the classification of rickettsial isolates at the genus, group, and species levels by using sequences of the 16S rRNA (rrs) gene and four protein-coding genes, the gltA, ompA, and ompB genes and gene D. To be classified as a member of the genus Rickettsia, an isolate should exhibit degrees of rrs and gltA homology with any of the 20 Rickettsia species studied of >/=98.1 and >/=86.5%, respectively. A member of the typhus group should fulfill at least two of the following four criteria: pairwise nucleotide sequence homologies with rrs, gltA, ompB, and gene D of either Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia prowazekii of >/=99.4, >/=96.6, >/=92.4, and >/=91.6%, respectively. A member of the spotted fever group should either possess the ompA gene or fulfill at least two of the following four criteria: pairwise nucleotide sequence homologies with rrs, gltA, ompB, and gene D of any member of this group of >/=98.8, >/=92.7, >/=85.8, and >/=82.2%, respectively. The existence of a distinct "ancestral" group should be questioned. To be classified as a new Rickettsia species, an isolate should not exhibit more than one of the following degrees of nucleotide similarity with the most homologous validated species: >/=99.8 and >/=99.9% for the rrs and gltA genes, respectively, and, when amplifiable, >/=98.8, >/=99.2, and >/=99.3% for the ompA and ompB genes and gene D, respectively. By use of our classification scheme, "Rickettsia heilongjiangii" belongs to a new species for which we officially propose the name Rickettsia heilongjiangensis sp. nov.