In 1993, the WHO declared tuberculosis a global emergency on the basis that there are 8 million new cases per year. The complete genome of the strain H37Rv of the causative microorganism, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, comprising 3924 genes has been sequenced. We compared the proteomes of two non-virulent vaccine strains of M. bovis BCG (Chicago and Copenhagen) with two virulent strains of M. tuberculosis (H37Rv and Erdman) to identify protein candidates of value for the development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. The mycobacterial strains were analysed by two-dimensional electrophoresis (2-DE) combining non-equilibrium pH gradient electrophoresis (NEPHGE) with SDS–PAGE. Distinct and characteristic proteins were identified by mass spectrometry and introduced into a dynamic 2-DE database (http://www.mpiib-berlin.mpg.de/2D-PAGE). Silver-stained 2-DE patterns of mycobacterial cell proteins or culture supernatants contained 1800 or 800 spots, respectively, from which 263 were identified. Of these, 54 belong to the culture supernatant. Sixteen and 25 proteins differing in intensity or position between M. tuberculosis H37Rv and Erdman, and H37Rv and M. bovis BCG Chicago, respectively, were identified and categorized into protein classes. It is to be hoped that the availability of the mycobacterial proteome will facilitate the design of novel measures for prevention and therapy of one of the great health threats, tuberculosis.