The disease known as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) is a major cause of illness and death in persons with impaired immune systems. While the genus Pneumocystis has been known to science for nearly a century, understanding of its members remained rudimentary until DNA analysis showed its extensive diversity. Pneumocystis organisms from different host species have very different DNA sequences, indicating multiple species. In recognition of its genetic and functional distinctness, the organism that causes human PCP is now named Pneumocystis jiroveci Frenkel 1999. Changing the organism's name does not preclude the use of the acronym PCP because it can be read "Pneumocystis pneumonia." DNA sequence variation exists among samples of P. jiroveci, a feature that allows reexamination of the relationships between host and pathogen. Instead of lifelong latency, transient colonization may be the rule.