The 16S and 23S rRNA of various Streptomyces species were partially sequenced and screened for the presence of stretches that could define all members of the genus, groups of species, or individual species. Nucleotide 929 (Streptomyces ambofaciens nomenclature [J.L. Pernodet, M.T. Alegre, F. Boccard, and M. Guerineau, Gene 79:33-46, 1989]) is a nucleotide highly unique to Streptomyces species which, in combination with flanking regions, allowed the designation of a genus-specific probe. Regions 158 through 203 of the 16S rRNA and 1518 through 1645 of the 23S rRNA (helix 54 [Pernodet et al., Gene 79:33-46, 1989]) have a high potential to define species, whereas the degree of variation in regions 982 through 998 and 1102 through 1122 of the 16S rRNA is less pronounced but characteristic for at least certain species. Alone or in combination with each other, these regions may serve as target sites for synthetic oligonucleotide probes and primers to be used in the determination of pure cultures and in the characterization of community structures. The specificity of several probes is demonstrated by dot blot hybridization.