Butyrate producers constitute an important bacterial group in the human large intestine. Butyryl-CoA is formed from two molecules of acetyl-CoA in a process resembling beta-oxidation in reverse. Three different arrangements of the six genes coding for this pathway have been found in low mol% G+C-content gram-positive human colonic bacteria using DNA sequencing and degenerate PCR. Gene arrangements were strongly conserved within phylogenetic groups defined by 16S rRNA gene sequence relationships. In the case of one of the genes, encoding beta-hydroxybutyryl-CoA dehydrogenase, however, sequence relationships were strongly suggestive of horizontal gene transfer between lineages. The newly identified gene for butyryl-CoA CoA-transferase, which performs the final step in butyrate formation in most known human colonic bacteria, was not closely linked to these central pathway genes.