The effects of O2 and CO2 on the growth in culture of Trichomonas vaginalis strain C1-NIH were investigated. Growth under pre-purified N2 in the absence of CO2 supplementation gave a doubling time of 4.4 h; when traces of O2 (less than 0.25 microM) were present, the doubling time was 3.5 h. Organisms grew most rapidly (doubling time 2.3 h) with traces of O2 (less than 0.25 microM) and with the CO2 level controlled at 5 mM. The balance of fermentation products from maltose was greatly influenced by supplied gases. Under strictly anaerobic conditions at 5 mM CO2, equimolar glycerol and lactate accounted for more than 95% of the measured products, whereas lower CO2 increased acetate production. Under microaerobic conditions (O2 less than 0.25 microM) acetate was the major product when CO2 was limited to that evolved endogenously; again 5 mM CO2 favoured glycerol and lactate production. Activities of key enzymes measured in cell-free extracts (pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase, hydrogenase, glycerol kinase, malate dehydrogenase (decarboxylating) and lactate dehydrogenase) altered with growth conditions commensurately with observed changes in metabolic flux patterns. These results suggest that T. vaginalis is optimally adapted to conditions it experiences in situ in the vagina (traces of O2, high CO2).