Sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB) were enumerated in 40 faecal samples obtained from two different human populations in the United Kingdom and rural South Africa. Species able to metabolize acetate, lactate, propionate, butyrate, H2/CO2, succinate, pyruvate, valerate, ethanol and a glutamate/serine/alanine mixture were found in faeces from both populations. Although a variety of nutritionally and morphologically distinct species of SRB belonging to the genera Desulfotomaculum, Desulfobacter, Desulfomonas and Desulfobulbus were identified, Desulfovibrio types always predominated. Significant numbers of SRB were present only in faecal samples from subjects whose breath methane excretion was low or undetectable. Reduced or absent methanogenesis in the presence of SRB was confirmed in fermentation studies with faecal slurries. Fourteen of 20 (70%) British faecal samples contained SRB and the remainder produced methane. The reverse was the case with 20 rural black South Africans, where only three (15%) of the samples had significant levels of SRB; the remaining 85% produced methane. These results suggest that to a large extent, dissimilatory sulphate reduction and methanogenesis are mutually exclusive in the human large gut.