Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), one of the world's major crops, is genetically very diverse. In order to select a representative sample of the worldwide wheat diversity, 3,942 accessions originating from 73 countries were analysed with a set of 38 genomic simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers. The number of alleles at each locus ranged from 7 to 45 with an average of 23.9 alleles per locus. The 908 alleles detected were used together with passport data to select increasingly large sub-samples that maximised both the number of observed alleles at SSR loci and the number of geographical origins. A final core of 372 accessions (372CC) was selected with this M strategy. All the different geographical areas and more than 98% of the allelic diversity at the 38 polymorphic loci were represented in this core. The method used to build the core was validated, by using a second set of independent markers [44 expressed sequence tag (EST)-SSR markers] on a larger sample of 744 accessions: 96.74% of the alleles observed at these loci had already been captured in the 372CC. So maximizing the diversity with a first set of markers also maximised the diversity at a second independent set of locus. To relate the genetic structure of wheat germplasm to its geographical origins, the two sets of markers were used to compute a dissimilarity matrix between geographical groups. Current worldwide wheat diversity is clearly divided according to wheat's European and Asian origins, whereas the diversity within each geographical group might be the result of the combined effects of adaptation of an initial germplasm to different environmental conditions and specific breeding practices. Seeds from each accession of the 372CC were multiplied and are now available to the scientific community. The genomic DNA of the 372CC, which can be entirely contained in a 384-deep-well storage plate, will be a useful tool for future studies of wheat genetic diversity.