A strictly anaerobic, H2-utilizing bacterium, strain SL1, was isolated from the sediment of an acidic coal mine pond. Cells of strain SL1 were sporulating, motile, long rods with a multilayer cell wall. Growth was observed at 5-35 degrees C and pH 3.9-7.0. Acetate was the sole end product of H2 utilization and was produced in stoichiometries indicative of an acetyl-CoA-pathway-dependent metabolism. Growth and substrate utilization also occurred with CO/CO2, vanillate, syringate, ferulate, ethanol, propanol, 1-butanol, glycerine, cellobiose, glucose, fructose, mannose, xylose, formate, lactate, pyruvate and gluconate. With most substrates, acetate was the main or sole product formed. Growth in the presence of H2/CO2 or CO/CO2 was difficult to maintain in laboratory cultures. Methoxyl, carboxyl and acrylate groups of various aromatic compounds were O-demethylated, decarboxylated and reduced, respectively. Small amounts of butyrate were produced during the fermentation of sugars. The acrylate group of ferulate was reduced. Nitrate, sulfate, thiosulfate, dimethylsulfoxide and Fe(III) were not utilized as electron acceptors. Analysis of the 16S rRNA gene sequence of strain SL1 demonstrated that it is closely related to Clostridium scatologenes (99.6% sequence similarity), an organism characterized as a fermentative anaerobe but not previously shown to be capable of acetogenic growth. Comparative experiments with C. scatologenes DSM 757T demonstrated that it utilized H2/CO2 (negligible growth), CO/CO2 (negligible growth), formate, ethanol and aromatic compounds according to stoichiometries indicative of the acetyl-CoA pathway. CO dehydrogenase, formate dehydrogenase and hydrogenase activities were present in both strain SL1 and C. scatologenes DSM 757T. These results indicate that (i) sediments of acidic coal mine ponds harbour acetogens and (ii) C. scatologenes is an acetogen that tends to lose its capacity to grow acetogenically under H2/CO2 or CO/CO2 after prolonged laboratory cultivation.