Aromatic compounds are an important component of the organic matter in some of the anaerobic environments that hyperthermophilic microorganisms inhabit, but the potential for hyperthermophilic microorganisms to metabolize aromatic compounds has not been described previously. In this study, aromatic metabolism was investigated in the hyperthermophile Ferroglobus placidus. F. placidus grew at 85 degrees C in anaerobic medium with a variety of aromatic compounds as the sole electron donor and poorly crystalline Fe(III) oxide as the electron acceptor. Growth coincided with Fe(III) reduction. Aromatic compounds supporting growth included benzoate, phenol, 4-hydroxybenzoate, benzaldehyde, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde and t-cinnamic acid (3-phenyl-2-propenoic acid). These aromatic compounds did not support growth when nitrate was provided as the electron acceptor, even though nitrate supports the growth of this organism with Fe(II) or H2 as the electron donor. The stoichiometry of benzoate and phenol uptake and Fe(III) reduction indicated that F. placidus completely oxidized these aromatic compounds to carbon dioxide, with Fe(III) serving as the sole electron acceptor. This is the first example of an Archaea that can anaerobically oxidize an aromatic compound. These results also demonstrate for the first time that hyperthermophilic microorganisms can anaerobically oxidize aromatic compounds and suggest that hyperthermophiles may metabolize aromatic compounds in hot environments such as the deep hot subsurface and in marine and terrestrial hydrothermal zones in which Fe(III) is available as an electron acceptor.