Eighty-four strains of Vibrio cholerae O1, O139 and non-O1/non-O139 from clinical and environmental sources were investigated for the presence of the toxin co-regulated pilus gene, tcpA, the virulence cassette genes ctxA, zot, ace and cep and also for their ability to elaborate haemolysin and protease. The ctxA and zot genes were detected using DNA–DNA hybridization while the ace, cep and tcpA genes were detected using PCR. Production of haemolysin and protease was detected using mammalian erythrocytes and an agar diffusion assay respectively. Analysis of their virulence profiles showed six different groups designated Type I to Type VI and the major distinguishing factor among these profiles was in the in vitro production of haemolysin and/or protease. Clinical O1, O139 and environmental O1 strains were similar with regard to presence of the virulence cassette genes. All environmental O1 strains with the exception of one were found to possess ctxA, zot and ace giving rise to the probability that these strains may actually be of clinical origin. One strain which had only cep but none of the toxin genes may be a true environmental isolate. The virulence cassette and colonization factor genes were absent in all non-O1/non-O139 environmental strains but production of both the haemolysin and protease was present, indicating that these may be putative virulence factors. These findings suggest that with regard to its pathogenic potential, only strains of the O1 and O139 serogroup that possess the tcpA gene which encodes the phage receptor, have the potential to acquire the CTX genetic element and become choleragenic.