A fluorescently labeled version of a population-specific oligonucleotide hybridization probe was used to monitor the enrichment and isolation of a sulfate-reducing bacterium from a multispecies anaerobic bioreactor. The organism was originally identified as a molecular isolate that was phylogenetically related to Desulfovibrio vulgaris by amplification and sequencing of part of its 16S rRNA sequence. The sequence, in turn, was used to design a population-specific probe. The anaerobic medium used for the organism's enrichment and isolation was based on the physiological properties of the its closest relatives as identified by sequence comparisons. Of 30 isolates examined, only 3 hybridized with the probe. Nearly complete 16S rRNA sequences determined for each of these three isolates (i) had no mismatches with the probe target site, (ii) were identical to the amplified partial sequence of about 500 nucleotides and to one another in all other positions, and (iii) were 93.9% similar to that of D. vulgaris. In addition, one isolate chosen for further study (strain PT-2) had a substrate specificity comparable to that of D. vulgaris. These results confirmed that polymerase chain reaction amplification of 16S rRNA sequences from environmental samples can be accurate and can also provide phylogenetic information from which aspects of a population's physiology can be inferred.