Such are the challenges, and the potential, presented by complete genome sequences that the eventual erosion of the boundaries between biochemistry, ecology, bioinformatics, population biology, epidemiology and medical microbiology will perhaps be the most profound legacy of the genomics revolution. The development of nucleotide sequence-based typing schemes (multilocus sequence typing (MLST)) represents a similar synthesis, for this technique both matches the practical requirements for a highly portable standard for strain characterisation whilst also being firmly grounded in the population biology principles of multilocus enzyme electrophoresis (MLEE). Contrary to recent claims that population biology analyses of public health-oriented MLST data 'obscures its utility in applied microbiology' [Maiden MC. Multilocus sequence typing of bacteria. Annu Rev Microbiol 2006;60:561-88.], we argue that such an emphasis is essential for full interpretation of the data. Here we note a pertinent case in point; how a consideration of the rates of genetic recombination can help to explain why MLST data tend to correlate with virulence properties in some species (Neisseria meningitidis) but not in others (Staphylococcus aureus). We also discuss how the argument applies to the identification of recently emerged methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) clones using MLST. We conclude with a speculative rationale for promoting the 'clonal complexes' of S. aureus to species status. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. and the International Society of Chemotherapy. All rights reserved.