Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis has been used to assess genomic diversity and to identify virulence regions in 10 strains, representing all five serotypes, of the anaerobic pathogen Clostridium perfringens. Detailed physical and gene maps of the approximately 3.6 Mb circular chromosomes have been established in eight cases and used to deduce a consensus map. With one exception the chromosomal arrangement was relatively constant and map comparison allowed three hypervariable regions to be identified. One of these was associated with the enterotoxin gene, cpe, which is an important cause of human diarrhoea following the ingestion of food contaminated with C. perfringens. Another variable region spanning the major virulence gene plc, which encodes the cytolytic toxin, alpha, was located near oriC in all cases whereas the gene for another lethal typing toxin, epsilon, was borne by an episome. It now seems likely that the serological variations, and the changes in the pathogenic spectrum which constitute the C. perfringens typing system, may be due entirely to the loss, or acquisition, of extrachromosomal genetic elements.