We investigated direct measurement of the DNA content of the parasitic intestinal flagellate Giardia lamblia through quantitation by Feulgen microspectrophotometry and also by visualization of Feulgen-stained DNA chromosomes within dividing cells by laser scanning confocal microscopy. Individual trophozoites of Giardia (binucleate) contained 0.144 +/- 0.018 pg of DNA/cell or 0.072 pg DNA/nucleus. Giardia lamblia cysts (quadranucleate) contained 0.313 +/- 0.003 pg DNA or 0.078 pg DNA/nucleus. The genome size (C) value per nucleus ranged between 6.5-7.1 x 10(7) BP for trophozoites and cysts, respectively. Confocal microscopic examination of Giardia trophozoites undergoing binary fission revealed five chromosome-like bodies within each nucleus. Further information about genome size and DNA content within different Giardia species may help to clarify the pivotal role of these primitive eukaryotic cells in evolutionary development.