Shewanella oneidensis contains four genes that encode proteins that have high sequence identity with yeast OYE (Old Yellow Enzyme, an NADPH oxidoreductase), the well-studied archetype of the OYE protein family. The present paper describes the first comparative study of OYEs that are present in a single bacterial species, performed to gain insight into their biochemical properties and physiological importance. The four proteins [named SYE1-SYE4 (Shewanella Yellow Enzyme 1-4)] were expressed as glutathione S-transferase fusion proteins in Escherichia coli. The yield of SYE2, however, was too low for further characterization, even after expression attempts in S. oneidensis. The SYE1, SYE3 and SYE4 proteins were found to have characteristics similar to those of other OYE family members. They were identified as flavoproteins that catalyse the reduction of different alpha,beta-unsaturated carbonyl compounds and form charge transfer complexes with a range of phenolic compounds. Whereas the properties of SYE1 and SYE3 were very similar, those of SYE4 were clearly different in terms of ligand binding, catalytic efficiency and substrate specificity. Also, the activity of SYE4 was found to be NADPH-dependent, whereas SYE1 and SYE3 had a preference for NADH. It has been suggested that yeast OYE protects the actin cytoskeleton from oxidative stress. There are indications that bacterial OYEs are also involved in the oxidative stress response, but their exact role is unclear. Induction studies in S. oneidensis revealed that yeast and bacterial OYEs may share a common physiological role, i.e. the protection of cellular components against oxidative damage. As only SYE4 was induced under oxidative stress conditions, however, a functional divergence between bacterial OYEs is likely to exist.