The bowel flora is implicated in Crohn's disease (CD) pathogenesis but its precise role is still unclear. Several non-mutually exclusive hypotheses have been proposed: an unidentified persistent pathogen; excessive bacterial translocation; an immune system abnormality in response to normal bacteria; or a breakdown in the balance between protective and harmful bacteria. These hypotheses can be tested by identifying bacteria in specific microscopic bowel structures or lesions. The present paper describes a novel technique to assess bacterial flora diversity in bowel biopsies, by combining laser capture microdissection with broad-range 16S rDNA sequencing. Fifty-four samples comprising histologically normal and pathological mucosa, MALT, ulcers, submucosal lymphangiectasias, epithelioid granulomas, and lymph nodes were microdissected out of 30 bowel biopsies from five CD patients. Bacterial 16S rDNA was successfully amplified by PCR in all samples, and PCR products from 15 samples were selected for cloning and sequence analysis. A total of 729 bacterial DNA sequences were analysed, which could be attributed to six different phyla (Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, Fusobacteria, and Planctomycetes). DNA from typical bowel bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae, Clostridiales, Bacteroidetes, Fusobacteria) was detected in all microdissected areas. It was thus convincingly demonstrated that 16S rDNA sequencing can be combined with microdissection to study the bowel flora. However, no specific persistent pathogen causal for CD was identified. The results suggest that Enterobacteriaceae may initiate or colonize ulcers in CD. Translocation of bacteria through established mucosal lesions or as a result of increased permeability may be involved in the evolution towards chronic inflammation and in the establishment of persistent lesions. Further study is needed to confirm these preliminary findings. Copyright © 2006 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.