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Comparison of the sequences of conserved genes, most commonly those encoding 16S rRNA, is used for bacterial genotypic identification. Among some taxa, such as the Enterobacteriaceae, variation within this gene does not allow confident species identification. We investigated the usefulness of RNA polymerase beta-subunit encoding gene (rpoB ) sequences as an alternative tool for universal bacterial genotypic identification. We generated a database of partial rpoB for 14 Enterobacteriaceae species and then assessed the intra- and interspecies divergence between the rpoB and the 16S rRNA genes by pairwise comparisons. We found that levels of divergence between the rpoB sequences of different strains were markedly higher than those between their 16S rRNA genes. This higher discriminatory power was further confirmed by assigning 20 blindly selected clinical isolates to the correct enteric species on the basis of rpoB sequence comparison. Comparison of rpoB sequences from Enterobacteriaceae was also used as the basis for their phylogenetic analysis and demonstrated the genus Klebsiella to be polyphyletic. The trees obtained with rpoB were more compatible with the currently accepted classification of Enterobacteriaceae than those obtained with 16S rRNA. These data indicate that rpoB is a powerful identification tool, which may be useful for universal bacterial identification.