Using a combination of 16S rRNA analysis and antigenic fingerprinting consisting of new and published data, the phylogenetic position of 18 thermophilic isolates currently classified as Methanobacterium species was reinvestigated. The results were verified by independent methods, including, where applicable, plasmid and phage typing. Comparative analysis of 16S rRNA data for 30 strains belonging to the order Methanobacteriales strongly suggested that mesophilic and thermophilic Methanobacterium isolates are distantly related and should be assigned to separate genera. For the thermophilic strains the genus Methanothermobacter was initially proposed by Boone, Whitman and Rouvière. Furthermore, the results support a reclassification of 15 isolates in three species within the proposed genus: (i) Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus comb. nov., containing eight isolates, six of which are able to utilize formate (type strain deltaHT); (ii) Methanothermobacter wolfeii comb. nov., containing four formate-utilizing isolates (type strain DSM 2970T); (iii) Methanothermobacter marburgensis sp. nov., containing three obligately autotrophic isolates (type strain MarburgT). Of the nine isolates formerly referred to as Methanobacterium thermoformicicum, six were reclassified as Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus and three as Methanothermobacter wolfeii.