Critical to most studies in molecular microbial ecology is the application of DNA/RNA extraction methods which can reveal the true level of population biodiversity present in samples from the community under investigation. Activated sludge communities have been studied extensively using molecular methods, but rarely have the nucleic acid isolation methods applied been assessed for their ability to achieve this. This study compares eight published RNA and DNA extraction protocols and one commercially available DNA isolation kit for their capacity to provide high quality nucleic acids that reflect the community composition. Each method was assessed on the basis of nucleic acid yield, purity and integrity, and the ability to provide PCR amplifiable RNA and DNA from known marker populations that varied in their resistance to nucleic acid extraction. Only three consistently provided DNA from each of the marker populations known to be present in the samples from fluorescence in situ hybridisation analysis. The failure of the other methods emphasises the need to validate all DNA/RNA extraction protocols. It is recommended that several validated extraction methods be used and the extracts pooled to further minimise any risk of bias.