Heteroduplex mobility assay (HMA) of partial 16S rRNA gene fragments was tested as a tool for predicting bacterial phylogenetic relationships. Approximately 400-bp fragments were amplified from a selection of cloned environmental DNAs representing a range of sequence identities and phylogenetic relationships. Heteroduplexes between pairs of sequences were formed by mixing equal amounts of PCR products, denaturing and annealing. Annealed mixes were separated on 8% polyacrylamide gels and silver stained. Heteroduplexes were readily distinguished from reannealed homoduplex and unannealed fragments in all sequences where percentage identity was less than 95%. The heteroduplexes showed retarded electrophoretic migration with respect to homoduplexes. The relative retardation was strongly correlated to the percentage sequence identity between the two strands. The HMA is a useful tool for screening environmental clone libraries to systematically select clones representative of the phylogenetic diversity within the sample, or to selectively retrieve members of a particular phylogenetic group for more detailed study.