Molecular techniques were applied for analysing the entire bacterial community, including both the cultivated and non-cultivated part of the community. DNA was extracted from samples of soils and sediments, and a combination of different molecular methods were used to investigate community structure and diversity in these environments. Reassociation of sheared and thermally denatured DNA in solution was used to measure the total genetical diversity. PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis of rRNA genes gave information about changes in the numerically dominating bacterial populations. Hybridisation with phylogenetic group specific probes, and sequencing provided information about the affiliation of the bacterial populations. Using DNA reassociation analysis we demonstrated that bacterial communities in pristine soil and sediments may contain more than 10,000 different bacterial types. The diversity of the total soil community was at least 200 times higher than the diversity of bacterial isolates from the same soil. This indicates that the culturing conditions select for a distinct subpopulation of the bacteria present in the environment. Molecular methods were applied to monitor the effects of perturbations due to antropogenic activities and pollution on microbial communities. Our investigations show that agricultural management, fish farming and pollution may lead to profound changes in the community structure and a reduction in the bacterial diversity.