The effect of growth temperature on the cellular fatty acid profiles of Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus megaterium was studied over a temperature range from 40 to 10 degrees C. As the growth temperature of B. subtilis was reduced, the lower-melting point anteiso-acids increased, while the higher-melting point iso-acids decreased. Consequently the ratio of branched- to straight-chain acids was unaffected by temperature, although changes in the position of fatty acid branching and the degree of unsaturated branched-chain fatty acids occurred. In B. megaterium a more complicated, biphasic behaviour was observed. Saturated, straight-chain and iso-branched acids decreased only from 40 degrees C down to 20-26 degrees C, and anteiso-acids decreased only from 20-26 degrees C to 10 degrees C, while unsaturated acids increased over the whole temperature range studied. Thus, in B. megaterium total branched-chain acids decreased and straight-chain acids increased as temperature decreased. However, the overall cellular content of lower-melting point fatty acids increased with decreasing temperature in both bacilli, and unsaturated fatty acids appeared to be essential components in the adaptation of the microbes to changes in temperatures. Since changes in the relative amounts of branched- and straight-chain fatty acid biosynthesis are known to reflect differences in fatty acid primers, temperature seems to affect not only the activity of the fatty acid desaturases but also the formation or availability of these primers. The results indicate, however, that notable species-specific regulatory features exist in this genus of bacteria.