Pneumocystis carinii specific DNA sequences have been cloned from the experimental rat model. The sequence of the gene coding for the large subunit of mitochondrial ribosomal RNA has been used to construct P. carinii specific oligonucleotide primers for the polymerase chain reaction. These oligonucleotides produced amplification of specific sequences from both P. carinii infected rat and human lung samplings, but none from a range of other organisms including potential pulmonary pathogens. Comparison of the sequence of amplified products from the infected rats and humans demonstrated limited but consistent differences between P. carinii from these two hosts and allowed for the construction of a human specific internal oligonucleotide. The application of the specific oligonucleotides for DNA amplification and subsequent Southern hybridisation affords extremely sensitive and specific detection of P. carinii in human samples, which may be applicable to both epidemiological research and clinical studies.