The minimal standards for including a species in the genus Mycobacterium are i) acid-alcohol fastness, ii) the presence of mycolic acids containing 60-90 carbon atoms which are cleaved to C22 to C26 fatty acid methyl esters by pyrolysis, and iii) a guanine + cytosine content of the DNA of 61 to 71 mol %. Currently, there are 71 recognized or proposed species of Mycobacterium which can be divided into two main groups based on growth rate. The slowly growing species require > 7 days to form visible colonies on solid media while the rapidly growing species require < 7 days. Slowly growing species are often pathogenic for humans or animals while rapidly growing species are usually considered nonpathogenic for humans, although important exceptions exist. The taxonomic and diagnostic characteristics of medically important species and of newly described species of the Mycobacterium genus are reviewed.