The proteins isolated from the whole cells of bacterial pathogens and related non-pathogenic simulants were analyzed directly, with minimal sample preparation by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Inspection of mass spectrometric profiles obtained from direct MALDI-MS analysis of the protein extracts revealed specific biomarkers for individual bacterial cells. The observed biomarkers enabled us not only to detect pathogenic bacteria (Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis and Brucella meliteusis), but also to distinguish them from the corresponding non-pathogenic species. By examining a series of strains of several Bacillus species (anthracis, thuringiensis, cereus and subtilis), it was possible to derive genus, species and strain-specific biomarkers from the measured molecular masses of the intact proteins. Additional series of biomarkers were obtained from direct mass spectrometric analysis of tryptic digests of the protein extracts. The application of this technique for rapid chemotaxonomic classification of microorganisms is demonstrated.