Acetate is normally regarded as an endproduct of anaerobic fermentation, but butyrate-producing bacteria found in the human colon can be net utilisers of acetate. The butyrate formed provides a fuel for epithelial cells of the large intestine and influences colonic health. [1-(13)C]Acetate was used to investigate the contribution of exogenous acetate to butyrate formation. Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Roseburia spp. grown in the presence of 60 mm-acetate and 10 mm-glucose derived 85-90 % butyrate-C from external acetate. This was due to rapid interchange between extracellular acetate and intracellular acetyl-CoA, plus net acetate uptake. In contrast, a Coprococcus-related strain that is a net acetate producer derived only 28 % butyrate-C from external acetate. Different carbohydrate-derived energy sources affected butyrate formation by mixed human faecal bacteria growing in continuous or batch cultures. The ranking order of butyrate production rates was amylopectin > oat xylan > shredded wheat > inulin > pectin (continuous cultures), and inulin > amylopectin > oat xylan > shredded wheat > pectin (batch cultures). The contribution of external acetate to butyrate formation in these experiments ranged from 56 (pectin) to 90 % (xylan) in continuous cultures, and from 72 to 91 % in the batch cultures. This is consistent with a major role for bacteria related to F. prausnitzii and Roseburia spp. in butyrate formation from a range of substrates that are fermented in the large intestine. Variations in the dominant metabolic type of butyrate producer between individuals or with variations in diet are not ruled out, however, and could influence butyrate supply in the large intestine.