In tuberculosis, it is often important to establish the source of infection and to determine whether disease is due to a new strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis or to relapse. To cope with the resurgence of tuberculosis and atypical mycobacterioses in AIDS patients, on the one hand, and to overcome the limitations of classical bacteriological procedures on the other, the development of rapid, sensitive, and reliable diagnostic and epidemiologic tools is highly desirable. Molecular typing methods are often based on repeated genes such as those for rRNA. Ribotyping is of limited use with pathogenic mycobacteria, as the slow-growers possess a single rRNA operon, while the fast-growers have two. This problem has been overcome by the discovery and study of repeated DNA elements in mycobacterial genomes, as these provide an alternative pathway for diagnostic and epidemiological investigations.