The Human Genome Project is rapidly producing insights into the molecular basis of human genetic disorders. The most immediate clinical benefit is the advent of new diagnostic methods. Molecular diagnostic tools are available for several genetic renal disorders and are in development for many more. Two general approaches to molecular diagnosis are linkage-based testing and direct mutation detection. The former is used when the gene has not been cloned but has been mapped in relation to polymorphic loci. Linkage- based testing is also helpful when a large diversity of mutations makes direct detection difficult. Limitations include the need to study multiple family members, the need for informative polymorphisms, and genetic heterogeneity. Direct mutation detection is limited by genetic heterogeneity and the need to distinguish nonpathogenic allelic variants from pathogenic mutations. Molecular testing raises a number of complex ethical issues, including those associated with prenatal or presymptomatic diagnosis. In addition, there are concerns about informed consent, privacy, genetic discrimination, and technology transfer for newly developed tests. Health professionals need to be aware of the technical and ethical implications of these new methods of testing, as well as the complexities in test interpretation, as molecular approaches are increasingly integrated into medical practice.