A universal PCR assay was designed that consistently detected psittacine beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) in psittacine birds affected with psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) from different geographic regions across Australia. Primers within open reading frame 1 (ORF1) of the BFDV genome consistently amplified a 717bp product from blood and/or feathers of 32 birds with PBFD lesions. The PCR did not amplify a product from the feathers or blood from 7 clinically normal psittacine birds. Primers based on regions outside of ORF1 did not consistently produce a PCR product, suggesting there was some genomic variation outside ORF1. The amplified ORF1 PCR products of 10 BFDV isolates, from different psittacine species and from various regions around Australia, were cloned and comparative DNA sequence analysis demonstrated 88-99% of the ORF1 fragments. The derived amino acid sequences of the amplified ORF1 fragments demonstrated similar identity between all 10 isolates. Within ORF1, there was complete conservation of the putative nucleotide binding site and marked conservation of 2 other motifs previously identified as essential components of the replication-associated proteins of other circoviruses and geminiviruses. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.