High levels (2-565 units/g) of amylase activity were observed in human faeces. Over 92% of amylase activity in faeces obtained from healthy persons was extracellular, whereas only about 9% of activity was associated with particulate material and washed cells. Bacterial cell-bound amylases were considerably more efficient in breaking down starch, however, than were the soluble enzymes which occurred in cell-free faecal supernatant fluids. Cell population densities of anaerobic starch-hydrolysing bacteria in the stools of ten persons ranged from 1.1 X 10(10) to 3.3 X 10(12)/g of faeces. Identification of 120 starch-hydrolysing colonies isolated from the stools of six subjects showed that the predominant amylolytic bacteria belonged to the genera Bifidobacterium, Bacteroides, Fusobacterium and Butyrivibrio. Mixed populations of gut bacteria rapidly fermented starch with the production of volatile fatty acids and organic acids. Lactate was observed to be a major, though transient intermediate during starch fermentation by these cultures. Approximately 60% of starch utilized was converted to volatile fatty acids, which in the human colon would be potentially available for absorption.