Species-specific identification of ascaridoid nematodes at any developmental stage is a prerequisite for detailed investigation of the life cycles, systematics and epidemiology of this important group, and is also crucial for the diagnosis of associated infections. The morphological identification of some species and/ or their larval stages can, however, present considerable difficulty. Recently, PCR-based methods, using genetic markers in the internal transcribed spacers (ITS) of ribosomal DNA, have been shown to provide reliable alternatives to more traditional methods for the specific identification of nematodes. This article provides an account of recent research on the development of PCR-based methods (utilizing ITS sequences) for the specific identification of ascaridoid nematodes of zoonotic potential, for the diagnosis of infections, and for the analysis of genetic variation within and among individual nematodes and their populations. Prospects for using these diagnostic and analytical tools to investigate epidemiological and population genetic questions relating to ascaridoid parasites are also discussed.