The potential of microsatellite sequences as genetic markers in hexaploid wheat (Triticum aestivum) was investigated with respect to their abundance, variability, chromosomal location and usefulness in related species. By screening a lambda phage library, the total number of (GA)n blocks was estimated to be 3.6 x 10(4) and the number of (GT)n blocks to be 2.3 x 10(4) per haploid wheat genome. This results in an average distance of approximately 270 kb between these two microsatellite types combined. Based on sequence analysis data from 70 isolated microsatellites, it was found that wheat microsatellites are relatively long containing up to 40 dinucleotide repeats. Of the tested primer pairs, 36% resulted in fragments with a size corresponding to the expected length of the sequenced microsatellite clone. The variability of 15 microsatellite markers was investigated on 18 wheat accessions. Significantly, more variation was detected with the microsatellite markers than with RFLP markers with, on average, 4.6 different alleles per microsatellite. The 15 PCR-amplified microsatellites were further localized on chromosome arms using cytogenetic stocks of Chinese Spring. Finally, the primers for the 15 wheat microsatellites were used for PCR amplification with rye (Secale cereale) and barley accessions (Hordeum vulgare, H. spontaneum). Amplified fragments were observed for ten primer pairs with barley DNA and for nine primer pairs with rye DNA as template. A microsatellite was found by dot blot analysis in the PCR products of barley and rye DNA for only one primer pair.