A PCR was developed for conserved regions within the cyanobacterial small subunit uptake hydrogenase (hupS) gene family. These primers were used to PCR amplify partial hupS sequences from 15 cyanobacterial strains. HupS clone libraries were constructed from PCR-amplified genomic DNA and reverse-transcribed mRNA extracted from phototrophic biofilms cultivated under nitrate-limiting conditions. Partial hupS gene sequences derived from cyanobacteria, some of which were not previously known to contain hup genes were used for phylogenetic analysis. Phylogenetic trees constructed with partial hupS genes were congruent with those based on 16S rRNA genes, indicating that hupS sequences can be used to identify cyanobacteria expressing hup. Sequences from heterocystous and nonheterocystous cyanobacteria formed two separate clusters. Analysis of clone library data showed a discrepancy between the presence and the activity of cyanobacterial hupS genes in phototrophic biofilms. The results showed that the hupS gene can be used to characterize the diversity of natural populations of diazotrophic cyanobacteria, and to characterize gene expression patterns of individual species and strains.