We screened mini-Mu plasmid libraries from Enterobacter aerogenes IFO 12010 for plasmids that complement Escherichia coli phn mutants that cannot use phosphonates (Pn) as the sole source of phosphorus (P). We isolated two kinds of plasmids that, unexpectedly, encode genes for different metabolic pathways. One kind complements E. coli mutants with both Pn transport and Pn catalysis genes deleted; these plasmids allow degradation of the 2-carbon-substituted Pn alpha-aminoethylphosphonate but not of unsubstituted alkyl Pn. This substrate specificity is characteristic of a phosphonatase pathway, which is absent in E. coli. The other kind complements E. coli mutants with Pn catalysis genes deleted but not those with both transport and catalysis genes deleted; these plasmids allow degradation of both substituted and unsubstituted Pn. Such a broad substrate specificity is characteristic of a carbon-phosphorus (C-P) lyase pathway, which is common in gram-negative bacteria, including E. coli. Further proof that the two kinds of plasmids encode genes for different pathways was demonstrated by the lack of DNA homology between the plasmids. In particular, the phosphonatase clone from E. aerogenes failed to hybridize to the E. coli phnCDEFGHIJKLMNOP gene cluster for Pn uptake and degradation, while the E. aerogenes C-P lyase clone hybridized strongly to the E. coli phnGHIJKLM genes encoding C-P lyase but not to the E. coli phnCDE genes encoding Pn transport. Specific hybridization by the E. aerogenes C-P lyase plasmid to the E. coli phnF, phnN, phnO, and phnP genes was not determined. Furthermore, we showed that one or more genes encoding the apparent E. aerogenes phosphonatase pathway, like the E. coli phnC-to-phnP gene cluster, is under phosphate regulon control in E. coli. This highlights the importance of Pn in bacterial P assimilation in nature.