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Fluorescent oligonucleotide hybridization probes were used to label bacterial cells for analysis by flow cytometry. The probes, complementary to short sequence elements within the 16S rRNA common to phylogenetically coherent assemblages of microorganisms, were labeled with tetramethylrhodamine and hybridized to suspensions of fixed cells. Flow cytometry was used to resolve individual target and nontarget bacteria (1 to 5 microns) via probe-conferred fluorescence. Target cells were quantified in an excess of nontarget cells. The intensity of fluorescence was increased additively by the combined use of two or three fluorescent probes complementary to different regions of the same 16S rRNA.