A total of 15 isolates of Giardia intestinalis, the first axenic cultures of this organism to be described from Germany, were established in Bonn from faecal cysts obtained from human and animal stool specimens. Measurement of in vitro growth kinetics for 12 of the isolates revealed 3 phenotypes ('rapid', 'medium-rate' and 'slow' growers) characterized by generation times of 9-11 h (5 isolates), 12-15 h (5 isolates) and > or = 18-20 h (2 isolates), respectively. Cloned sublines exhibited growth rates similar to those of the parent isolates. Genetic analyses involving use of the polymerase chain reaction to amplify segments of genes encoding variant-specific surface proteins or the enzyme glutamate dehydrogenase, coupled with the detection of restriction-fragment-length polymorphisms, identified genotypes belonging to three previously described genetic groups. Seven isolates (from humans, a calf and a chinchilla) were typed to genetic group I--a potentially zoonotic genotype belonging to assemblage A, one of two major genetic lineages defined by analysis of G. intestinalis from humans and animals. Six isolates (all from humans) showed identity with the group II genotype--recovered thus far only from humans and also belonging to assemblage A. Two isolates (one from a human, the other from a monkey housed at the Cologne zoo) were classified as assemblage B genotypes. The in vitro growth rates correlated strongly with genotype, group I or group II (assemblage A) genotypes accounting for all of the 'rapid' and 'medium-rate' cultures and both assemblage B isolates being 'slow growers'. The data indicate that genetically based metabolic differences may determine how rapidly G. intestinalis isolates can grow in axenic culture.