Although premature infants are increasingly surviving the neonatal period, up to one-third develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Despite evidence that bacterial colonization of the neonatal respiratory tract by certain bacteria may be a risk factor in BPD development, little is known about the role these bacteria play. The aim of this study was to investigate the use of culture-independent molecular profiling methodologies to identify potential etiological agents in neonatal airway secretions. This study used terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) and clone sequence analyses to characterize bacterial species in endo-tracheal (ET) aspirates from eight intubated pre-term infants. A wide range of different bacteria was identified in the samples. Forty-seven T-RF band lengths were resolved in the sample set, with a range of 0-15 separate species in each patient. Clone sequence analyses confirmed the identity of individual species detected by T-RFLP. We speculate that the identification of known opportunistic pathogens including S. aureus, Enterobacter sp., Moraxella catarrhalis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Streptococcus sp., within the airways of pre-term infants, might be causally related to the subsequent development of BPD. Further, we suggest that culture-independent techniques, such as T-RFLP, hold important potential for the characterization of neonatal conditions, such as BPD.