Research in bacterial population genetics has increased in the last 10 years. Population genetic theory and tools and related strategies have been used to investigate bacterial pathogens that have contributed to recent episodes of temporal variation in disease frequency and severity. A common theme demonstrated by these analyses is that distinct bacterial clones are responsible for disease outbreaks and increases in infection frequency. Many of these clones are characterized by unique combinations of virulence genes or alleles of virulence genes. Because substantial interclonal variance exists in relative virulence, molecular population genetic studies have led to the concept that the unit of bacterial pathogenicity is the clone or cell line. Continued new insights into host parasite interactions at the molecular level will be achieved by combining clonal analysis of bacterial pathogens with large-scale comparative sequencing of virulence genes.