We have determined the complete sequence of two structurally distinct 18S ribosomal RNA genes from the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum. S1 nuclease analyses demonstrate that only one of the genes is represented in stable rRNA populations isolated from blood-stage parasites. Comparisons of homologous rRNA genes from Plasmodium berghei and P. falciparum reveal that they are identical at 86% of their positions. From comparisons of the Plasmodium genes to that of humans, it was possible to design genus-specific as well as species-specific oligonucleotide probes that can be used to distinguish the parasite 18S ribosomal RNA from that of its host. The utilization of these probes as diagnostic reagents is discussed.