Two symbiotic species, Photobacterium leiognathi and Vibrio fischeri, and one non-symbiotic species, Vibrio harveyi, of the Vibrionaceae were tested for their ability to grow by anaerobic respiration on various electron acceptors, including trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) and dimethylsulphoxide (DMSO), compounds common in the marine environment. Each species was able to grow anaerobically with TMAO, nitrate or fumarate, but not with DMSO, as an electron acceptor. Cell growth under microaerophilic growth conditions resulted in elevated levels of TMAO reductase, nitrate reductase and fumarate reductase activity in each strain, whereas growth in the presence of the respective substrate for each enzyme further elevated enzyme activity. TMAO reductase specific activity was the highest of all the reductases. Interestingly, the bacteria-colonized light organs from the two squids, Euprymna scolopes and Euprymna morsei, and the light organ of the ponyfish, Leiognathus equus, also had high levels of TMAO reductase enzyme activity, in contrast to non-symbiotic tissues. The ability of these bacterial symbionts to support cell growth by respiration with TMAO may conceivably eliminate the competition for oxygen needed for both bioluminescence and metabolism.