Since 1993, strains of Entamoeba histolytica sensn lato have been assigned to 2 species on the basis of clinical, biochemical, immunological and genetic evidence: the pathogenic strains to E. histolytica sensu stricto, the non-pathogenic strains to Entamoeba dispar. Analysis of the gene encoding for the small subunit ribosomal RNA (SSU rDNA) supports the existence of 2 species. However, while 3 whole SSU rDNA sequences are available in the data bases for E. histolytica, only a partial sequence has been published for E. dispar. Here we report a SSU rDNA sequence for E. dispar. Compared to those of E. histolytica, this sequence shows 1·7 % nucleotide substitutions. On the basis of our rDNA data, 2 primers were designed to produce polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification from both E. histolytica and E. dispar. Primer specificity for the 2 amoebae was assessed both theoretically against the data bases, and experimentally against a collection of eukaryotic and prokaryotic DNAs. The amplified stretch encompasses a polymorphic Dde I restriction site which allows, after cleavage of the fragment, E. histolytica and E. dispar to be distinguished. The reliability of this method of identification was assessed comparing the results with those based on classic isoenzyme analysis.