The phylogeny and diversity of two key functional genes were investigated as the basis for improved understanding of the community structure of natural phytoplankton assemblages in marine environments. New partial NR (encoding eukaryotic assimilatory nitrate reductase) and rbcL (encoding LSU of RUBISCO) sequences from 10 cultured phytoplankton strains are reported. Phytoplankton community composition from Monterey Bay (MB), a coastal upwelling site on the California coast, and the Western English Channel (EC), a North Atlantic spring bloom environment, was elucidated based on NR and rbcL sequences. Diatoms were by far the most frequently detected group in both environments, consistent with their importance as a major bloom-forming group. Both NR and rbcL libraries contained sequences representing cosmopolitan types such as Emiliania huxleyi (Lohmann) W. W. Hay et H. P. Mohler, Phaeocystis, and Pseudo-nitzschia. The NR and rbcL libraries also contained sequences from other chromophytic algal groups and the Dinophyceae (alveolates). Sequences showing identity with key bloom-forming organisms including E. huxleyi, Phaeocystis pouchetii (Har.) Lagerh., Pseudo-nitzschia sp., and Thalassiosira sp. in the rbcL libraries confirm previous studies from these environments based on traditional approaches. Diversity/pattern analyses detected significant compositional differences among the libraries, which were consistent with patterns identified by phylogenetic analysis, but these patterns were not strongly correlated with obvious environmental variables such as temperature and nitrate concentration. Many new and divergent NR and rbcL sequences are reported, but the extent to which they represent unknown types cannot be determined until greater effort is made to sequence the existing culture collections.