DNA probes specific for the pneumococcal competence regulatory genes comA and comC were used to test the presence of these genes in 214 pneumococcal isolates selected to represent a wide variety of clonal types and genetic backgrounds (as defined by chromosomal macrorestriction patterns and multilocus enzyme analysis), a variety of serotypes, isolation dates (between 1916 and 1996), geographic origins (on four continents), as well as different clinical origins (including both infection sites and colonization sites). Each isolate gave positive signal with both DNA probes. The comA and comC genes were never on the same SmaI restriction fragment and the comA gene showed a considerable degree of polymorphism from one strain to another. While DNA sequencing of 50 of the isolates have identified three distinct alleles of the comC gene, the number of mutations within the leader peptide were minimal. The results suggest that the mechanism to undergo genetic transformation is widespread within the species of Streptococcus pneumoniae.