Media and growth conditions were optimized for the microaerobic cultivation of Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense in flasks and in a fermentor, resulting in significantly increased cell and magnetosome yields, compared with earlier studies. A reliable method was established for the automatic control of low dissolved oxygen tensions (pO(2)) in the fermentor (oxystat). Growth and magnetosome formation by M. gryphiswaldense, M. magnetotacticum and Magnetospirillum sp. AMB-1 were studied at various oxygen concentrations. Despite differences in their growth responses with respect to oxygen, we found a clear correlation between pO(2) and magnetosome formation in all three Magnetospirillum strains. Magnetite biomineralization was induced only below a threshold value of 20 mbar O(2) and optimum conditions for magnetosome formation were found at a pO(2) of 0.25 mbar (1 bar = 10(5) Pa). A maximum yield of 6.3 mg magnetite l(-1) day(-1) was obtained with M. gryphiswaldense grown under oxystat conditions, which is the highest magnetosome productivity reported so far for a magnetotactic bacterium. In conclusion, the presented results provide the basis for large-scale cultivation of magnetospirilla under defined conditions.