The purpose of the present study was to isolate marine culturable bacteria with antibacterial activity and hence a potential biotechnological use. Seawater samples (244) and 309 swab samples from biotic or abiotic surfaces were collected on a global Danish marine research expedition (Galathea 3). Total cell counts at the seawater surface were 5 x 10(5) to 10(6) cells/ml, of which 0.1-0.2% were culturable on dilute marine agar (20 degrees C). Three percent of the colonies cultured from seawater inhibited Vibrio anguillarum, whereas a significantly higher proportion (13%) of colonies from inert or biotic surfaces was inhibitory. It was not possible to relate a specific kind of eukaryotic surface or a specific geographic location to a general high occurrence of antagonistic bacteria. Five hundred and nineteen strains representing all samples and geographic locations were identified on the basis of partial 16S rRNA gene sequence homology and belonged to three major groups: Vibrionaceae (309 strains), Pseudoalteromonas spp. (128 strains), and the Roseobacter clade (29 strains). Of the latter, 25 strains were identified as Ruegeria mobilis or pelagia. When re-testing against V. anguillarum, only 409 (79%) retained some level of inhibitory activity. Many strains, especially Pseudoalteromonas spp. and Ruegeria spp., also inhibited Staphylococcus aureus. The most pronounced antibacterial strains were pigmented Pseudoalteromonas strains and Ruegeria spp. The inhibitory, pigmented Pseudoalteromonas were predominantly isolated in warmer waters from swabs of live or inert surfaces. Ruegeria strains were isolated from all ocean areas except for Arctic and Antarctic waters and inhibitory activity caused by production of tropodithietic acid.