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Fingerprinting techniques provide access to understanding the ecology of uncultured microbial consortia. However, the application of current techniques such as terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) has been hindered due to their limitations in characterizing complex microbial communities. This is due to that different populations possibly share the same terminal restriction fragments (T-RFs) and DNA fragments may co-migrate on DGGE gels. To overcome these limitations, a new approach was developed to separate terminal restriction fragments (T-RFs) of 16S rRNA genes on a two-dimensional gel (T-RFs-2D). T-RFs-2D involves restriction digestion of terminal fluorescence-labelled PCR amplified 16S rRNA gene products and their high-resolution separation via a two-dimensional (2D) gel electrophoresis based on the T-RF fragment size (1st D) and its sequence composition on the denaturing gradient gel (2nd D). The sequence information of interested T-RFs on 2D gels can be obtained through serial poly(A) tailing reaction, PCR amplification and subsequent DNA sequencing. By employing the T-RFs-2D method, bacteria withMspIdigested T-RF size of 436 (±1) bp and 514 (±1) bp were identified to be aLysobactersp. and aDehalococcoidessp. in a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) dechlorinating culture. With the high resolution of 2D separation, T-RFs-2D separated 63 DNA fragments in a complex river-sediment microbial community, while traditional DGGE detected only 41 DNA fragments in the same sample. In all, T-RFs-2D has its advantage in obtaining sequence information of interested T-RFs and also in characterization of complex microbial communities.