Fifty-four bacterial strains belonging to 37 species were tested for their ability to assimilate short chain and/or medium chain liquid n-alkanes. A gene probe derived from the alkB gene of Pseudomonas oleovorans ATCC 29347 was utilized in hybridization experiments. Results of Southern hybridization of PCR-amplificates were compared with those of colony hybridization and dot blot hybridization. Strongest signals were received only from Gram-negative bacteria growing solely with short n-alkanes (C10). Hybridization results with soil isolates growing with n-alkanes of different chain lengths suggested as well that alkB genes seem to be widespread only in solely short-chain n-alkane-degrading pseudomonads. PCR products of Rhodococcus sp., Nocardioides sp., Gordona sp. and Sphingomonas sp. growing additionally or solely with medium-chain n-alkane as hexadecane had only few sequence identity with alkB though hybridizing with the gene probe. The derived amino acid sequence of the alkB-amplificate of Pseudomonas aureofaciens showed high homology (95%) with AlkB from Ps. oleovorans. alkB gene disruptants were not able to grow with decane.