The human gastrointestinal tract harbors an extremely diverse and complex microbial ecosystem. Most of the existent data about the enteric microflora have been generated using stool samples, but the collection and storage of fecal samples are often problematic. The influence of the storage of stool samples on the bacterial diversity and the degradation of bacterial DNA was analysed in this study. Stool samples from 5 healthy volunteers were exposed to different storage temperatures and durations. The bacterial diversity and the amount of intact bacterial DNA were analysed by single-stranded conformation polymorphism analysis (SSCP) and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), both using a 16S rDNA approach. Additionally, biopsy specimens were taken from 3 of the 5 individuals to compare fecal and mucosal flora. The bacterial diversity of the fecal flora and the total number of bacteria were significantly reduced after 8 and 24 hours at both room temperature and 4 degrees C. The mucosa-associated bacterial microflora showed substantial differences compared with the fecal flora. The observed alterations of fecal flora during storage point to the difficulty of the molecular analysis of the bacterial diversity and the enumeration of bacterial cells in fecal samples.