A comparative analysis of seven new 16S rRNA gene sequences of pathogenic Vibrio species with previously published vibrio sequences confirmed that Vibrio vulnificus represents a group that is not closely related to the core organisms of the genus Vibrio. In addition, we found that V. vulnificus, Listonella (Vibrio) anguillarum and Vibrio diazotrophicus branch off separately from the core group. A comparison of the 16S rRNA gene sequences of V. vulnificus strains belonging to biotypes 1 and 2 revealed that the sequences of all but four biotype 1 strains were identical to each other but slightly different (17 bases) from the sequences of the rest of the V. vulnificus strains investigated. In addition, the sequences of variable regions of the 23S rRNA genes of Vibrio fluvialis, Vibrio furnissii, Vibrio harveyi, Vibrio cholerae, and V. vulnificus C7184 and TW1 were determined, aligned, and compared with all available bacterial 23S rRNA sequences in order to search for specific target sites. As a result, four oligonucleotide probes specific for V. vulnificus were synthesized, and the specificities of these probes were evaluated by dot blot hybridization to membrane-bound RNAs from 21 V. vulnificus strains, 13 strains belonging to other Vibrio species, 61 strains belonging to species that are members of the alpha, beta, and gamma subclasses of the Proteobacteria, and 3 eucaryotic microorganisms. Two probes hybridized with all of the V. vulnificus strains tested, and the other two probes distinguished V. vulnificus biotype 1 strains from all other organisms. In situ identification of V. vulnificus by using tetramethylrhodamine- or fluorescein-labelled oligonucleotides is now possible.