The 16S-23S rRNA spacer regions of Brucella abortus, B. melitensis, and B. suis were cloned and subcloned after PCR amplification. Sequence analysis of the inserts revealed a spacer of about 800 bp with very high ( > 99%) homology among the three species examined. Two genus-specific primer pairs, BRU-P5-BRU-P8 and BRU-P6-BRU-P7, that could be used in a nested PCR format and three genus-specific DNA probes, BRU-ICG2, BRU-ICG3, and BRU-ICG4, were deduced from this spacer. The specificity and sensitivity of both primer sets and probes were examined by testing them against a collection of 18 Brucella strains and 56 strains from other relevant taxa by using PCR and the Line Probe Assay (LiPA), respectively. A method for direct detection of Brucella spp. in 1 ml of raw milk was developed on the basis of enzymatic treatment of the milk components and subsequent PCR and LiPA hybridization. After a single PCR, sensitivities of 2.8 x 10(5) and 2.8 x 10(4) CFU/ml were obtained for detection by agarose gel electrophoresis and LiPA, respectively. Nested PCR yielded a sensitivity of 2.8 x 10(2) CFU/ml for both methods.