over the past 10 years, molecular methods have become available with which to strain-type mycobacterium tuberculosis. they have allowed researchers to study certain important but previously unresolved issues in the epidemiology of tuberculosis (tb). for example, some unsuspected microepidemics have been revealed and it has been shown that the relative contribution of recently acquired disease to the tb burden in many settings is far greater than had been thought. these findings have led to the strengthening of tb control. other research has demonstrated the existence and described the frequency of exogenous reinfection in areas of high incidence. much recent work has focused on the phenotypic variation among strains and has evaluated the relative transmissibility, virulence, and immunogenicity of different lineages of the organism. we summarize the recent achievements in tb epidemiology associated with the introduction of dna fingerprinting techniques, and consider the implications of this technology for the design and analysis of epidemiological studies.