The genetic characterization of pathogenic isolates of Leishmania was attempted by analysis of the molecular properties of kinetoplast DNA (kDNA) minicircles. Unit minicircle size is not conserved during speciation of Leishmania since the minicircles of strains and clones of L t major are smaller (700 bp) than those found in certain strains of L mexicana ssp (820 bp), L donovani (850 bp) or L t tropica (900 bp). Schizodeme analysis of minicircles reveals a high degree of sequence divergence in kDNA of Leishmania with the degree of microheterogeneity varying between species. This sequence divergence allows the discrimination of species, strains, and clones of Leishmania into schizodemes . Southern blot hybridization experiments reveal that at high stringency overall minicircle sequence homology is conserved among clones and strains of one species (L t major) but not between different species. This property of minicircle DNA permits the use of kDNA probes as a species-specific diagnostic test for the identification of unknown Leishmania isolates. The properties of kDNA from an L t tropica strain LRC- L32 (a " recidiva " organism) are so diverged from those of L t major strains as to support the classification [22, 23] of L t tropica and L t major as separate species of Leishmania rather than subspecies of L tropica.