Bacterial diversity in 16S ribosomal DNA and reverse-transcribed 16S rRNA clone libraries originating from the heavy metal-contaminated rhizosphere of the metal-hyperaccumulating plant Thlaspi caerulescens was analysed and compared with that of contaminated bulk soil. Partial sequence analysis of 282 clones revealed that most of the environmental sequences in both soils affiliated with five major phylogenetic groups, the Actinobacteria, α-Proteobacteria, β-Proteobacteria, Acidobacteria and the Planctomycetales. Only 14.7% of all phylotypes (sequences with similarities> 97%), but 45% of all clones, were common in the rhizosphere and the bulk soil clone libraries. The combined use of rDNA and rRNA libraries indicated which taxa might be metabolically active in this soil. All dominant taxa, with the exception of the Actinobacteria, were relatively less represented in the rRNA libraries compared with the rDNA libraries. Clones belonging to the Verrucomicrobiales, Firmicutes, Cytophaga–Flavobacterium–Bacteroides and OP10 were found only in rDNA clone libraries, indicating that they might not represent active constituents in our samples. The most remarkable result was that sequences belonging to the Actinobacteria dominated both bulk and rhizosphere soil libraries derived from rRNA (50% and 60% of all phylotypes respectively). Seventy per cent of these clone sequences were related to the Rubrobacteria subgroups 2 and 3, thus providing for the first time evidence that this group of bacteria is probably metabolically active in heavy metal-contaminated soil.